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31 005 

Books by Edmond Taylor 


Mainstream of the Modern World Series 



by Sir Harold Nicolson 


by Edmond Taylor 

The Mainstream of 


the Modern World 



by Edmond Taylor 

Garden City, New York, 1963 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 63~~1Q518 

Copyright 3.963 by Hdmond Taylor 

A.II Rights Reserved 

Printed in the United States of America 


My greatest debt an immense one for help on this book is to my wife, 
Anne V. Taylor, who in addition to offering sound criticism and encour- 
agement at every stage of its preparation carried a large part of the burden 
of research and collaborated in writing several of the key chapters, notably 
Chapters 1, 5, 8, 11, 17, and 18. I naturally owe a particular debt for 
encouragement, criticism, and advice to John Gunther. I am also indebted 
for research and advice on several sections to Dr. Elsa Bernaut, Beata 
Levy, and Waverley Root, and to Eleanor Ohman, who also gave devoted 
secretarial assistance. I am deeply grateful to Manes Sperber for detailed 
and invaluable comments on the entire manuscript, and to Dr. Max Ascoli 
who offered several excellent suggestions for its improvement. 


1 Sarajevo: The Shots That Still Ring Round the World 1 

2 Flashbacks to a Sunset World 18 

3 Dynasts and Diplomats 35 

4 The Year of the Red Cock 45 

5 The Fossil Monarchy 69 

6 Sick Man's Legacy 97 

7 Rehearsal for Doom 123 

8 The Unlucky Brinkmanship of Wilhelm II 136 

9 The Gravediggers of Autocracy 161 

10 Murder, Muddle, and Machiavelli 174 

11 The Failure of Diplomacy 203 

12 The Failure of Arms 230 

13 The Suicide of the Russian Monarchy 241 

14 The Lost Revolution 256 

15 The Age of the Witch Doctor 272 

16 To the Bitter End 289 

17 Exit the Hohenzollerns 318 

18 The Fall of the House of Habsburg 337 


1 9 The Time of Troubles 357 

20 The Doomed Peace 37 1 
Bibliography 398 
Index 411 

Maps and Genealogical Charts 
by Rafael Palacios 

BOSNIA: Also Showing Racial Distribution in Surrounding Territory 6 

EUROPE 1914: The Political Camps 36 

EUROPE BEFORE WORLD WAR I (front endsheet) 
EUROPE AFTER WORLD WAR I (back endsheet) 





Sarajevo: The Shots That Still Ring Round the World 

of the last known photographs of the Archduke Francis 
Ferdinand of Habsburg, heir to the throne of his uncle, 
the octogenarian Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary, shows him 
coming down the steps of the city hall in Sarajevo a few minutes after 
eleven on the morning of Sunday, June 28, 1914. Under the refulgent 
uniform topped with a plumed hat his stout body is rigid; his heavy fea- 
tures seem congested and his neck swollen above the tight-fitting collar; 
his thick, curling mustaches bristle like a wild boar's. Beside him walks his 
morganatic wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, her plump face look- 
ing pinched and taut. They are just about to step into a waiting car. Both 
are clearly uneasy, but not yet really frightened. The local Bosnian dignitar- 
ies who line the steps, framing the doomed couple, are not frightened either; 
many of them are Moslemsparadoxically the only friends the Catholic 
Habsburgs have in this seething, semi-Oriental province, only recently freed 
from the Turkish yoke, but already clamoring for a Yugoslavia which has 
not yet been born and they know that man does not evade his fate. The 
knowledge is written on their faces; the photograph catches them with 
their gloved hands raised to their flower-pot hats in a gesture of awe and 
resignation, as one salutes a funeral. 

The whole scene, captured for posterity by some anonymous camera- 
man, stands out so vividly across the years that in looking at it one almost 
has the impression of reliving a personal nightmare. As in certain night- 
mares, incredulity wrestles with the sense of doom. Surely someone will cry 
out a warning before it is too late, surely someone will try to do something. 
In fact, someone does, but it is the wrong thing, and already it is too late. 
In five minutes Francis Ferdinand and Sophie will be lying unconscious in 


their speeding car bleeding to death from an assassin's bullets: an ancient 
dynasty and with it a whole way of lifewill start to topple; then another 
and another and another. Close to nine million men fell in World War I 
as a direct result of those two shots fired in a dusty Balkan town roughly 
half a century ago; then 15,000,000 more in a second, greater conflict im- 
plicit in the ending of the first one. The visit that the Habsburg heir and his 
wife paid to Sarajevo lasted only a little more than an hour not quite the 
length of a normal feature film but the drama of those 60 or 70 minutes 
has literally revolutionized the whole course of modern history; reconstruct- 
ing it helps to understand many of the tragic dramas that humanity has 
witnessed since. 

The view of Sarajevo as one approaches from the southwest is a lovely 
one. High but gently sloping mountains almost encircle it. The valley of 
the Miljacka, a shallow torrent that cuts the town in two, narrows at its 
eastern outskirts to a rugged gorge commanded by the ruined Turkish fort 
(serai) from which it takes its name. The old Moslem quarters crown the 
upper slopes of the natural amphitheater that rises nearly six hundred feet 
on both banks of the stream; the slender minarets of their hundred mosques 
soar like rhythmed prayer above whitewashed villas in walled, tangled 
gardens. The raw modern town below merely serves as a foil to their en- 
chantment. This is Sarajevo today, and this save for the faint scars left 
by Allied bombing in World War II is how it appeared to Francis Ferdi- 
nand in the clear morning sunlight, as his open-topped car, with the gold 
and black fanion of the Habsburgs fluttering in the fresh mountain air, 
drove into town from the railroad station. 

Though not a man normally sensitive to beauty, the archduke no doubt 
was gladdened by the scene. He demonstrated no more enthusiasm than he 
habitually displayed at the opera or at Court balls a constant complaint 
of the artistic and pleasure-loving Viennese but as he leaned stiffly against 
the leather-upholstered seat condescending to the view, his arrogant, morose 
face, with the sagging middle-aged jowls he was fifty-oneseemed un- 
usually cheerful. Francis Ferdinand had in fact every reason to be satisfied 
with life, and even to feel a little mellow that June morning. The ostenta- 
tious, almost provocative, military maneuvers along the Serbian border that 
had been the official pretext for his visit to Bosnia he was Inspector Gen- 
eral of the armed forces-had gone off well, at least from the Austro- 
Hungarian viewpoint. For once there had been no slackness nothing like 
that disgraceful incident a couple of months earlier near Trieste when he 
had personally caught one of the sailors from his naval guard sneaking a 
cigarette behind a hedge (he had had the fellow put in the brig for a fort- 
night) . Francis Ferdinand was a humorless, taciturn martinet with a mania 
for spit-and-polish who also took seriously the serious side of soldiering 


and administration; he had an almost Prussian phobia about schlamperei^ 
the Austrian genius for insouciant inefficiency. The royal suite in the hotel 
of the little spa, Ilidze, where he had spent the previous night had been 
quite comfortable no schlamperei there, either and Sophie, whom he 
had brought along with him, in violation of all protocol, had enjoyed the 
respectful attentions of his young staff officers. The ceremonial visit to 
Sarajevo, promised, for all its tedium, to be even more satisfying; its timing 
had a private significance that in the Archduke's mind may possibly have 
overshadowed the political one. June 28 was the anniversary of the most 
important date in his life. 

Fourteen years ago on that day, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria- 
Este (as he preferred to call himself) had married Countess Sophie Chotek, 
a member of a noble but comparatively obscure Czech family, and a lady- 
in-waiting to his cousin, the Archduchess Isabella. From the Habsburg 
viewpoint she might as well have been a chambermaid. "Love makes people 
lose all sense of dignity," Francis Joseph exclaimed when he heard the news. 
The old Emperor had never quite forgiven his heir for this misalliance; 
it had taken a whole year of stubborn negotiations to win his consent to 
the marriage. But even Francis Joseph could not have softened the iron 
writ of Habsburg House Law, the supreme code of the dynasty. At a 
solemn assembly of the Court and the Privy Council in the ancient Hofburg 
Palace in Vienna, Francis Ferdinand had been obliged to renounce all 
rights of rank and succession for his children before taking Sophie as his 
morganatic wife. He had never forgotten the humiliation. He loved Sophie 
enough to swallow it, but it rankled all the same. The Archduke was no 
royal iconoclast or bohemian; he was a snob and a pedant obsessed 
despite his marriage to a commoner with the privileges of royalty generally 
and with his own dynastic rights in particular. 

Oddly enough, the marriage had turned out happy. When Francis Ferdi- 
nand developed tuberculosis and was written off for dead by his uncle's 
court another slight he never forgave Sophie with tireless devotion nursed 
him back to health. They had three children, Ernst, Max and Sophie, the 
last two known in the family as Maxl and Sopherl-whom the Archduke 
adored. Momentarily oblivious to all protocol, he enjoyed sitting on the 
floor to play with them, often receiving important visitors in this position 
and woe to any visitor who did not instantly follow the royal example. 
The conjugal union of the Habsburg autocrat-to-be with the daughter of 
the empire's despised Slav minority seemed a model of bourgeois felicity; 

iThis defect seems to have been one of the Habsburg imperial administration 
rather than of the Austrian national character, properly speaking. The present-day 
visitor encounters little evidence of schlamperei in the tidy, prosperous Austrian 
Republic of the 1960s. 


actually it was in all probability something more than that: the day they 
took their last ride together it was still a love match. 

In fact, this graceless couple Francis Ferdinand looking more like the 
typical Prussian boor of the epoch than like a Viennese gentleman; Sophie 
a square-faced matron well past her prime, in no way improved by the 
overdecorated hat and the high, tight collar of her dress-sitting side by 
side on the back seat of their ungainly antebellum vehicle, en route to keep 
their rendezvous with death, were united by an undying tenderness as ro- 
mantic in its way perhaps as any in history. The smiles they exchanged as 
the royal cortege approached the center of town and the first scattered cries 
of "Zivio" rang out were warm and intimate. It was in part for Sophie's 
sake that the Archduke had organized the trip to Sarajevo, and she knew it. 

In the stylized ballet of Vienna Court life, strictly regulated by an eti- 
quette going back to the days of Maria Theresa, there was no place for 
Sophie. In 1906 the Emperor had given her the title of Duchess of Hohen- 
berg and thereafter she was allowed to attend Court at the Schoenbrunn 
Palace, but never on the same footing as her husband. The Archduke's 
numerous enemies exploited every weapon in the armory of protocol to vex 
and humiliate her. At Court galas, for example, when etiquette called for a 
"ceremonial entrance," orders were issued that only half the folding door 
should be opened for her. Eventually Francis Ferdinand, a brooding, vin- 
dictive man, burning with ill-concealed impatience for his uncle to die and 
given to black fits of depression and rages so violent that Sophie sometimes 
feared he was going insane, set up a kind of rival Court at his Belvedere 
Palace on a hilltop overlooking Vienna. The great German and Magyar 
feudal families were but perfunctorily represented there; the Archduke par- 
ticularly loathed the haughty Magyar nobles because of their independence, 
and surrounded himself with a paradoxical mixture of Slavs, reactionary 
clerics, and German Christian Socialists. This tended to split the aristocracy 
and officialdom of the empire into two factions without wholely solving 
the problem of the Duchess's rank. 

Unlikely as it sounds today, this tiresome and anachronistic imbroglio 
played a real part in setting the stage for a world disaster. It was to punish 
his detractors and to atone to Sophie for all the times she had been forced 
to walk at the tail of some court procession while he had headed it with an 
Archduchess on his arm, that Francis Ferdinand in 1914 hatched up a kind 
of protocol-putsch. He would take advantage of his new office as Inspector 
General of the armed forces he was appointed in 1913 to attend the 
forthcoming maneuvers in the recently annexed province of Bosnia- 
Herzegovina. While there he would pay an official visit to its capital, Sara- 
jevo, in his military capacity rather than as heir to the throne. But of course 
he would have to be treated like royalty. And he would take Sophie with 
himon their wedding anniversary. She would be received like the wife of 


an Inspector General who happened to be the royal heir that is to say, like 
a queen. 

The political motivations back of the Archduke's visit to Sarajevo were 
no less convoluted than his private ones. They were rooted both in Habs- 
burg family history and in the complex human geography of the Danubian 
Basin. While these two subjects deserve fuller exploration, it is enough at 
this point to recall a few of their salient features. To begin with, there is 
the key fact that Austria-Hungary was called the Dual Monarchy because 
it was not a nation but two separate and theoretically sovereign nations 
ruled by a common King-Emperor and linked by rather sketchy joint, or 
imperial, administrative services (including the army). This, however, is a 
gross oversimplification; in many respects Austria and Hungary were less 
like nations than like two associated empires. In each a master race in 
Austria, the Germans; in Hungary the Magyars ruled more or less oppres- 
sively over a number of subject peoples. (Being a master race at home did 
not prevent the Magyars from complaining that they themselves were op- 
pressed, or at least exploited, by the Germans throughout the Empire.) 
Most of the submerged nationalities belonged to the Slavic race, (though 
there were also many Italians and Rumanians) but they stemmed from 
several different branches of it, and instead of being grouped in one area 
they were scattered throughout Austria-Hungary along with various ethnic 
minorities, like the addled limbs and features of the subjects in certain 
surrealist portraits. The Czechs lived in the part of northern Austria that 
had once been the independent Slavic Kingdom of Bohemia; their close 
kinsmen, the Slovaks, lived more to the east and therefore under the much 
harsher Hungarian yoke. Hungary also owned large parts of what is today 
Yugoslavia, and thus had an important South Slav Serb and Croat mi- 
nority as well as the Slovak one. The Slovenes, another South Slavic people, 
were partly under Austrian dominion, however. The Habsburgs, as the 
feudal overlords of this anachronistic hodge-podge of peoples naturally, 
had the most trouble with their biggest and proudest vassals, the Magyars; 
therefore, they tended to favor certain of their Slav subjects as a sort of 
counterweight to Magyar ambition or stubbornness. Francis Ferdinand 
pushed this family tradition to extreme limits; he detested the Magyars, 
and whether to annoy them or for more statesmanlike reasons, constantly 
sought to appear as the champion of the Empire's Slavs. (The fact that he 
had married a Czech noblewoman naturally facilitated, and perhaps in- 
spired, this role.) Francis Ferdinand was undoubtedly more clearsighted 
than most high-ranking Austrian officials in recognizing the ominously 
growing strength of the nationalist movement among the empire's Slav 
minorities, particularly among its South Slavs. At one time the Archduke 
apparently hoped to combat the separatist lure of the Yugoslav dream 
which was being actively promoted by expansionist elements in the adjacent 


Also showing Racial Distributm 
tnSiirroundl/ig Territory 

f^Jj Germans 
Croats and Serbians (Slavs) OMMMI Magyars 

Slovenes csiavs) 
Slovaks (Slavs) 


Kingdom of Serbia through offering the South Slavs home rule in a sepa- 
rate state of their own within the Empire. 

Bosnia had a significant, if ambivalent, relationship to all such schemes, 
and it was a major factor in the general Balkan imbroglio. Vienna had 
administered the provinces together with its sister province of Herzegovina 
-since 1877 when the native Christians (mostly Serb or Croat by race) 
had driven out their Turkish masters. The original legal basis for the ar- 
rangement had been a general European treaty, aimed precisely at prevent- 
ing the freshly liberated territory from becoming a bone of contention 
among the powers, which had put it under Austro-Hungarian administra- 
tion in a sort of mandate. (Juridically, Bosnia-Herzogovina remained part 
of the Ottoman Empire.) Then in 1908 the old Emperor's ministers had 
persuaded him to sign a decree formally annexing the provinces to his 
empire. This irresponsible act had disturbed the great powers, enraged the 
pepper-patriots in free Serbia-who had hoped some day to annex Bosnia- 
Herzegovina themselves and inflamed the pro-Serbian or Pan-Slav nation- 
alism of the local population. In deciding his official visit to the Bosnian 
capital, the Archduke no doubt felt that it would have a soothing effect 
locally while attracting the favorable attention of Slav nationalists else- 
where in the empire. On the one hand the visit together with the maneuvers 
near the frontier demonstrated that the empire would tolerate no non- 
sense either from the Serbian irredentists in Belgrade or from the South 
Slav secessionists within its own borders. On the other hand, it would 
demonstrate somewhat more cryptically it would seem the future Emper- 
or's sympathy with the legitimate aspirations of loyal Slav nationalism, and 
his well-known love for his Slav subjects. By the same token, it would once 
more infuriate the Magyars. 

This was how Francis Ferdinand and his wife happened to be riding 
together in a slow-moving open car in the heart of what was practically 
a zone of military occupation on the fatal Sunday. The regal-looking motor- 
cade, the flaunting flags, the curious if rather silent crowds lining the wide 
avenue along the right bank of the Miljacka as the cortege turned into it 
these were the Archduke's anniversary presents to Sophie. 

To most of the Bosnians who turned out to greet or simply to stare at 
their presumptive future monarch and his wife, the date marked a quite 
different sort of anniversary. June 28 actually June 15 by the Serbian 
Orthodox calendar is the Vidovdan, the Feast of St. Vitus. To the Slav peo- 
ples of the Balkan Peninsula it is a holiday unlike any other. For centuries 
it was a national day of mourning because it commemorates the battle of 
Kossovo in 1389 when the Turks destroyed the medieval kingdom of Serbia 
and enslaved its Christian subjects. Since 1912 it has been the symbol of a 
glorious resurrection the defeat of the Turks in the first Balkan War that 
led to their virtual expulsion from Europe. 


Like all historic anniversaries that pluck men's heartstrings with con- 
tradictory fingers, the Vidovdan looses deep, confused emotions among 
those who observe it: it is a day when good friends drink too much and fall 
to brawling, when even the stranger's most tactful word grates as if on a 
nerve laid bare. 

Francis Ferdinand, the least tactful of men and the most intrusive of all 
possible strangers, knew that the date he had picked for his first visit to 
Sarajevo was the Vidovdan. He was also aware that Bosnia and the Bos- 
nian capital had remained under the Austro-Hungarian yoke what they 
had been under the Turkish hotbeds of nationalist conspiracy and terror- 
ism (the revolutionary tradition was gloriously revived against the Nazis 
in World War II) . Perhaps he counted on his reputation as a champion of 
the Slavs within the Empire to disarm hostility. Its real effect was to make 
him seem dangerous as well as hateful to the fanatics of Slavdom; extremists 
always fear a moderate adversary. 

"Suicide while of unsound mind," would seem the most likely verdict on 
the visit to Sarajevo if Francis Ferdinand had not taken along with him 
the being whom he loved most in the world: his wife. Certainly he would 
not have exposed her if he had really believed there was danger. His fatal 
insensitivity to the public temper in Bosnia demonstrates how little human 
contact there was between the Habsburgs and their subjects. In the expres- 
sive Chinese phrase, the dynasty after ruling for six hundred years had lost 
the Mandate of Heaven (as the reader will see later, most of the other 
surviving twentieth-century dynasties had lost, or were about to lose it, 
too). Not only were the Habsburgs out of touch with their subjects, but 
communication had partly broken down between different organs of their 

The civil authorities both in Sarajevo and in Vienna had picked up 
warnings of a plot against the Archduke. For a while one school of history 
believed that certain of these authorities, particularly those with Magyar 
connections, had deliberately allowed the heir to the throne to walk into a 
trap perhaps had even encouraged the assassination plot. Today, with 
much hitherto secret evidence now available, the expert consensus is less 
dramatic but in one way stranger. The civilian and the military authorities 
of the empire were simply not speaking to each other, or at least the latter 
were not paying any attention to what the former said, Francis Ferdinand 
had not wanted to give the official Court a pretext for interfering with his 
plans to honor Sophie; he insisted on treating the visit as a purely military 
matter. His pigheadedness infuriated the Court and the joint Austro- 
Hungarian Ministry of Finance, which was responsible for the civil ad- 
ministration in Bosnia. The eighty-four-year-old Emperor disapproved so 
strenuously of the Archduke taking his wife to Bosnia that he had left in a 
huff for his summer palace at Ischl to avoid receiving the couple on their 


return to Vienna. The soldiers joined enthusiastically in the feud. Marshal 
Oskar Potiorek, the military governor of Bosnia and a superb Central 
European specimen of early Blimp, never reported to his nominal chief, 
the Finance Minister, that the visit had been arranged. Perhaps he did not 
trust the minister's security; in any case, he attached no importance to the 
stories of political unrest in his territory. "Like most soldiers in occupied 
countries," remarks the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, "they [Potiorek 
and his Staff] hardly acknowledged the local population except as cleaners 
in the barracks." 

The end result of this bureaucratic schizophrenia was that Potiorek as- 
sumed sole responsibility for the security of the Archduke's party without 
having the means to assure it. Many of his soldiers and gendarmes had 
been drawn away to take part in the field maneuvers, and a recklessly 
sparse cordon held back the crowd when the royal cortege six motorcars 
with the Archduke's second entered Sarajevo shortly after 10 A.M. on the 

The first portent came just after the royal car passed the Bank of Austria- 
Hungary on the avenue bordering the Miljacka embankment. 

Franz, Count Harrach, the Archduke's aide-de-camp, was in the front 
seat next to the chauffeur, Sophie was in the back on the right-hand side, 
nearest the embankment; Francis Ferdinand next to her. Opposite them sat 
Potiorek, a splendid self-important figure with a vacant military face. He 
was showing them what the army had done for the arts in Sarajevo the 
newly built Austrian barracks in mustard-colored bureaucratic baroque 
across the river. Where his finger pointed there was a gap in the crowd on 
the sidewalk and standing in the gap, a tall dark young man, who, exactly 
at that instant, made a queer gesture with his hands. There was a small 
sound, no louder than cork popping from a bottle; then odd, disconnected 
things began to happen. Harrach thought mistakenly that he had heard a 
bullet whistle near his head. Sophie definitely felt something graze the back 
of her neck and put up her hand to touch it. Potiorek saw a black object 
float away from the young man on the embankment and land somewhere 
behind the royal car* The front tire of the following one blew out with a 
loud noise, spilling officers into the street. One of them, Lieutenant Erich 
von Merizzi, Potiorek's aide-de-camp, could not understand at first why 
his face was suddenly dripping blood. On the embankment a confused 
scuffle broke out in (he crowd and a tall figure raised a hand to its mouth, 
then jumped over the parapet into the bed of the stream; many bystanders 
craned their necks to see what was happening to him down there among 
the boulders. It was close to 10:30. 

In the royal car the Archduke and his wife sat very straight. Potiorek, 
looking over their heads, reported that a bomb had gone off; Francis Fer- 
dinand replied, rather surprisingly, he had been expecting something of the 


sort. Potiorek reported further that an officer in the third car had been 
hurt; it seemed to be Merizzi. Francis Ferdinand said to stop the car and 
look after him. Nobody protested this lunatic order, which was promptly 
obeyed. The lead car then halted, too. Down in the bed of the Miljacka 
several policemen were dragging along the dark young man who now 
smelled of bitter almonds and vomit while conscientiously beating him 
with the flats of their swords. His name, they were soon to discover, was 
Nedjelko Cabrinovic and he was a nineteen-year-old printer, born in Sa- 

Lieutenant von Merizzi turned out to be only slightly wounded; the car 
with the crumpled front wheel was quickly pushed off to the curb for what- 
ever good that might do. Puzzling over the strange sequence of events, the 
military experts in the royal party came up almost at once with the right 
explanation. The first popping sound that had seemed to jar things off their 
course was the fuze cap or detonator of a small bomb or hand grenade 
blown off when the dark young man had purposely whacked it against a 
lamppost. Undoubtedly it was this fragment too light to hurt anyone that 
had grazed Sophie's neck. The bomb proper, merely charged by the initial 
detonation, had gone off twelve seconds later, thus explaining why it had 
hit the wrong car. Though inexpertly handled in the present instance, the 
device seemed too complicated to be the handiwork of local artisans. Gre- 
nades of the type described were popular at the time in Serbia; the re- 
doubtable comitadjis (Serb partisans) had found during the Balkan War 
that they worked nicely on Turks. The conclusion was not reassuring; 
Potiorek lost no time in ordering the remaining cars of the cortege to resume 
their route this time at a much faster pace and not to stop until they 
reached the city hall. If he had realized the true situation he would have 
ordered them to drive still faster, and in the opposite direction. 

The brief reception by the city fathers at the Rathaus, a tasteless struc- 
ture erected by the Austrians in the late Turkish bath style of architecture 
that now houses a museum of provincial handicrafts, was not a success. 
The mayor had hardly commenced his address of welcome when the 
Archduke furiously interrupted him. 

"Mr. Mayor," he nearly shouted, "I come here on a visit and I get bombs 
thrown at me. It is outrageous." 

It was only with difficulty that Francis Ferdinand was persuaded to 
make a short, extemporaneous speech in reply to the mayor's. The son of 
one of the local aldermen who was present as a child at the ceremony 
described its strange, oppressive atmosphere to the British novelist Rebecca 
West when she visited Sarajevo between the two wars, collecting material 
for her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, one of the most magical of all travel 


"We were all silent, not because we were impressed with him [the Arch- 
duke] for he was not at all our Bosnian idea of a hero. But we all felt 
awkward because we knew that when he went out he would certainly be 
killed ... we knew how the people felt about him and the Austrians, and 
we knew that if one man had thrown a bomb and failed, another man 
would throw another bomb, and another after that if he should fail ... it 
gave a very strange feeling to the assembly." 

While the reception was going on upstairs, in the city hall, Cabrinovic, 
the would-be assassin, still alive despite the cyanide he had swallowed be- 
fore jumping off the embankment and the subsequent beating by the police, 
was being questioned at the police station. He had information that could 
have saved the royal couple and his interrogators were not exactly gentle in 
trying to get it out of him, but he kept his mouth shut as long as was 

Before leaving the city hall there was a huddle with Potiorek. The Arch- 
duke criticized the military governor for the inadequate protection given 
his party and enquired somewhat caustically if there were likely to be more 
attempts to assassinate him during the remainder of his visit. 

Potiorek, according to a deposition he gave later, replied in pure Blimp 
that "I hoped not, but that in spite of all security measures one could not 
prevent someone standing in the vicinity of the car from attempting some- 
thing similar." 

According to another version, Potiorek, forgetting the deference due to 
royalty even exclaimed testily, 

"What, do you think the streets of Sarajevo are full of assassins?" 

If he actually said anything like this he was, of course, technically cor- 
rect, since it was determined later that there had been only five or six or at 
most seven, assassins in the streets all stationed at intervals along the em- 
bankment of the Miljacka in the quarter mile or so between the bank of 
Austria-Hungary and the city hall. In any event neither Potiorek nor the 
chief of police, who was present at the impromptu conference, at first 
thought it advisable to cancel the rest of the scheduled drive through the 
town. It was only when Francis Ferdinand insisted that before going on to 
the museum, which was the next scheduled stop, he wanted to visit the 
military hospital to enquire about von Merizzi's wounds, that Potiorek pro- 
posed evasive action. The ride to the hospital should be safe enough, he 
thought. It meant retracing part of the morning's itinerary along the Mil- 
jacka embankment, and that was the last place where any hypothetical 
assassins who might still be at large would be expecting the Archduke to 
appear. However, it might be advisable to drive at top speed and after 
visiting the hospital to cancel the rest of the program in order to punish 
the inhabitants of Sarajevo for the morning's outrageous events. 


Nothing brings out the inevitability of the fall of the house of Austria 
more sharply than Francis Ferdinand's prompt, condescending acceptance 
of the egregious suggestion that he punish the Habsburg-hating Bosnians 
by depriving them of his presence. Yet it might have saved his life if it had 
been efficiently carried out A new car was brought up. The Archduke and 
Sophie got in she had insisted on accompanying him while Count Har- 
rach, shielding his royal master with his body, stood on the left-hand run- 
ning board, nearest the embankment; that is the direction the bomb had 
come from earlier. The chief of police and the deputy mayor took their 
places in the lead car. The Archduke's again came second. Both lurched 
into gear and began to speed along the embankment, following the morn- 
ing's route in reverse. 

Did the heir of the Habsburgs realize that death stood waiting for him a 
few hundred yards away? Rebecca West, who evidently loves wild animals 
and dislikes Habsburgs, recalls a gruesome anecdote about him. Like his 
royal cousin and crony, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Francis Ferdinand 
was an almost psychopathic butcher of game; not long before he had 
boasted of having shot his three-thousandth stag. He took special pride in 
a new technique of shooting hares that he had worked out; the improve- 
ment consisted in placing his beaters in a pear-shaped formation that 
brought the hares practically to the muzzle of his gun and enabled him to 
slaughter record bags. Miss West suggests that in the last moments of his 
life Francis Ferdinand may have discovered how it felt to be a beast at bay. 

Actually, the hunters of men who earlier had set up their firing line along 
the Miljacka embankment had given up in panic or despair by the time 
their intended victim left the city hall. This is one of the weirdest features of 
the Sarajevo drama. In a sense Francis Ferdinand and Sophie were doomed 
from the moment they entered the town, but their fate was merely a mathe- 
matical probability. The assassination plot was one of those inept but none- 
theless deadly conspiratorial operations combining professional planning 
with amateur execution. The executors were six untrained youths. It was 
virtually certain under the circumstances that some links in the murder 
chain would break down, but very likely that at least one would hold. This 
likelihood was nearly upset* A sort of statistical miracle almost occurred at 
the last moment; that it finally did not was due to a countervailing factor 
which was itself a foreseeable probability: that same Austrian schlamperei 
which was Francis Ferdinand's particular b&te noire. 

As the lead car reached the Latin Bridge it has a different name today 
it turned right off the embankment up what was then named Francis 
Joseph Street the originally scheduled itinerary for the party. Nobody had 
thought to tell the chauffeur that it had been changed. The Archduke's 
chauffeur blindly followed. Even so, the royal couple might have escaped if 
Potiorek had not intervened to set things right 


"Not that way, you fool," he yelled at the chauffeur. "Keep straight on." 

The rattled flunky stopped so he could shift into reverse not two yards 
from a slight, hollowed-eyed boy of nineteen who had just come out of a 
coffeehouse where he had gone to steady his nerves; his world had collapsed 
about him half an hour before when the grenade thrown by his friend 
Cabrinovic went wild and there seemed to be nothing left to live for. He 
had a loaded automatic pistol in his pocket that he had given up the hope 
of being able to use. Now, though dazed by the miraculous second chance 
that fate had offered him, he drew it out and remembered to aim. He 
could hardly have missed. The range was less than ten feet and as long as 
Sophie sat straight there was no obstacle between the Archduke and the 
killer's gun; he was at the curb on the right; Harrach was standing on the 
left side of the car, his useless sword dangling in his hand. It was 11:15. 

The assassin fired twice. The first shot hit Francis Ferdinand, tearing 
through his chest and lodging against his spine. The second, aimed at 
Potiorek, hit Sophie in the abdomen, either because the gunman's hand 
swerved or because she tried to jump up and shield her husband with her 
body. For a few seconds both of them continued to sit straight; Potiorek 
thought that the assassin grabbed by neighbors in the crowd just as he was 
raising the automatic to put a bullet in his own head had missed. Then, as 
the chauffeur finally got the car turned in the right direction and it leaped 
forward, the Duchess collapsed against the Archduke. He remained up- 
right, but a thin dark rivulet of blood stained the front of his tunic, and 
the corners of his mouth were red. 

Up to that moment the assassination drama had seemed almost more 
burlesque than tragedy; it had much of the sordidness and confusion of a 
third-class bullfight. But good breeding helps to tidy up many a messy situa- 
tion, and real love redeems almost any squalor. Francis Ferdinand and 
Sophie Chotek had lived out their lives in a faded, tinsel Court during one 
of the most tawdry epochs in human history, but in their dying they at- 
tained the dignity of tragedy. 

"Sophie, Sophie, don't die; live for our children," murmured Francis 
Ferdinand, trying to brace her unconscious body as the car sped toward 
the governor's palace. Then, to a question from Harrach, he answered, "It 
is nothing." 

Six times, in a steadily more feeble voice he repeated: "It is nothing." 

And so it was. 

Since October 1918 Sarajevo has been part of Yugoslavia; today it is 
the capital of the Yugoslav People's Republic of Bosnia, and the house in 
front of which the Habsburg Archduke and his wife were shot is a museum 
dedicated to the memory of their assassins. Just opposite the curb where 
the royal car stopped a black marble tablet on the wall reads: HERE ON 


ON THE DAY OF THE VlDOVDAN, JUNE 15 (28), 1914. 

Considering everything that has happened in the world since the date of 
the assassination, this wording sounds a bit parochial, but the importance 
given Princip as an agent of destiny is not exaggerated. It is fitting that the 
marble tablet should mention only his name, and that the old Latin 
Bridge across the Miljacka is now the Princip Bridge. Not only did he fire 
the fatal shots himself, but though he was only a nineteen-year-old high 
school student at the time he was the moral leader, of the assassination 
conspiracy and its field commander. He is not just a Balkan folk hero 
but a twentieth-century one; by his act he ushered in a whole age of con- 
spiracy, a time of assassins. 

"I am not a criminal for I have suppressed a harmful man," Princip 
said at his trial. 

Resolute, fearless, singleminded and ruthless, Princip was a type of po- 
litical fanatic that has become only too familiar to us. The son of a peasant 
from a small village in Herzegovina, he had never known anything but 
poverty, yet from earliest childhood he burned with a thirst for education 
that was like a fever. 

He was sickly and frail; ill health probably tuberculosisoften kept him 
from school but he read voraciously and had passed all but the last-year 
examination in the Belgrade high school, where the scholastic system was 
less rigid than in Austria. Living in free Serbia exalted his ingrained anti- 
Austrian rebelliousness into a mystical South Slav nationalism that took 
the place of the Orthodox faith in which he had ceased to believe; reading 
Bakunin and Kropotkin planted in his mind the cult of violence and destruc- 
tion. He began to think of himself as a professional terrorist and one night 
paid a secret visit to the tomb of a famous young Bosnian terrorist in 
Sarajevo so that he could solemnly pledge himself to commit a similar deed. 

At first glance the whole Sarajevo plot, despite its ultimate success, looks 
like a schoolboy escapade that somehow turned into tragedy, a mixture of 
Tom Sawyer and Blackboard Jungle, Counting Princip, six persons took 
part in the actual killing: five Serbo-Croats from Bosnia and one Bosnian 
Moslem. None was more than nineteen and one was only seventeen. The 
genesis of the crime is steeped in adolescent romanticism. It goes back to 
the cafes of the Green Crown and the Golden Sturgeon in Belgrade where 
Bosnian exiles and comitadji veterans of the Balkan War used to congregate 
to talk politics and murder over tiny syrupy cups of Turkish coffee or 
glasses of fiery Serbian slivovitz taken to wash down mouthfuls of even 
more fiery Serbian onions and slices of sun-dried raw beef. Among the 
patrons of these two colorful establishments (which were also popular 
with at least two competing secret services) were three youthful Bosnian 
ex-patriates really refugees from the Austrian school system: Princip, 


Cabrinovic, who was then working at the Serbian state printing plant and 
who was to throw the bomb at the Archduke, and Trifko Grabez, the 
eighteen-year-old son of a Bosnian village pope. They came to hero- 
worship at the feet of the ex-comitadjis and to inflame each other's imagina- 
tions with talk of someday themselves committing an attentat a spectacular 
act of terrorism like those that had won undying glory to the heroes of the 
anti-Turkish resistance throughout the centuries. Since Bosnia was no 
longer under Turkish rule the attentat clearly had to be directed against the 
Austrian oppressors. 

At first they had no specific target in mind. The attentat-a&y attentat 
was an end in itself. The decision to kill Francis Ferdinand was an after- 
thoughtor so the boys believed inspired by a newspaper clipping an- 
nouncing his visit to Sarajevo which Cabrinovic received in the spring of 
1914 from some anonymous correspondent in Bosnia. Kind comitadji 
friends whom they had met at the cafe supplied them all the approved 
equipment for an attentat bombs, pistols, phials of cyanide and instructed 
them in its use. They were even provided with reduced-fare tickets to the 
Austro-Hungarian border somebody seemed to thinfr of everything and 
were given letters of introduction to a couple of freedom-loving Serbian 
border guards who helped them slip back into Bosnia. 

Before they realized it the original three had collected quite an elaborate 
little underground organization around themselves seventeen persons all 
told. Several of them were mature and politically sophisticated Bosnian 
nationalists a mysterious, rather sinister schoolteacher named Danilo Die 
became the chief organizer and recruiting agent for the conspiracy but the 
triggermen recruited for the most active roles were even more pathetically 
immature than the Belgrade trio. One of them, a boy of seventeen, having 
flunked a math examination, felt there was nothing left for him but suicide 
and joined the plot as a means of achieving it. He had been given his 
weapons the day before in a park, after which he joined some school 
friends at a cafe for an ice and boasted to them of the desperate deed he 
was going to do. They shrugged their shoulders. 

Cabrinovic himself had a tendency to giggle at the wrong moment and 
was considered too "naive" to be trusted with a revolver-that was why he 
had a bomb. On the eve of the attentat he had his picture taken for posterity 
at a photographers and startled his girl friend by sending her flowers. 

When the time came for action the schoolboy conspirators with the ex- 
ception of Princip-behaved as might have been expected. Cabrinovic at 
least acted, though wildly and ineffectually. Three simply panicked and ran 
when they heard his grenade explode. Grabez waited for a while, then 
rushed to his uncle's house where he hid his bomb under the toilet seat 

Only Princip kept his nerve. When he saw Cabrinovic being dragged 
away he toyed a moment with the idea of shooting him "so things would 


go no further," then killing himself. He dropped the scheme when he saw 
the Archduke's car speed by too fast for a shot or a bomb and realized 
that Cabrinovic had missed after all. For a while he walked around in a 
daze, not knowing what to do next, had his cup of coffee, and as we have 
already seen turned up by accident on the very spot where the royal car 
came to a halt. He was nearly beaten to death by police and officers of the 
royal party; a rib was broken and one arm so badly smashed that eventually 
it had to be amputated. 

At the trial of the conspirators most of whom were caught by the Aus- 
triarus Princip stood out both as the strongest personality and the clearest 
mind among them. 

"I am a South Slav nationalist," he explained in court, concisely sum- 
marizing the objectives of the conspiracy. "My aim is the union of all 
Yugoslavs, under whatever political regime, and their liberation from 

"By what means did you think to accomplish that?" the judge asked. 

"By terrorism," was the unhesitating answer. 

Because of his youth Princip escaped the death sentence, as did all but 
six of the conspirators. He was given twenty years, with the medieval pro- 
visos that he be obliged to fast one day every month and that he be placed 
in solitary confinement for one day each year on the anniversary of his 
crime. He died of tuberculosis and bad treatment in the prison of Theresien- 
stadt on April 28, 1918, a few months too soon to see the outcome of the 
world war that his act had precipitated. 

Looking back from the vantage point of the present we see clearly today 
that the outbreak of World War I ushered in a twentieth-century Time of 
Troubles' in the expressive term of the British historian Arnold Toynbee 
from which our civilization has by no means yet emerged. Directly or in- 
directly all the convulsions of the last half century stem back to 1914 and 
Sarajevo: the two World Wars, the Bolshevik revolution, the rise and fall 
of Hitler, the continuing turmoil in the Far and Near East, the power- 
struggle between the Communist world and our own. More than 23,000,000 
deaths can be traced to one or the other of these upheavals; all of us who 
survive have been scarred, at least emotionally, by them. This much is 

But why and how did the romantic crime of a nineteen-year-old fanatic 
lead to such dramatic and far-reaching consequences? 

The superficial answer, of course, is that the Austrians believed Princip 
and his fellow conspirators were simply the agents of an upstart, expansion- 
ist Serbian power which in the long-run constituted a real revolutionary 
and para-military threat to the empire. We know today that many of the 
specific accusations that served as basis for the brutal Austro-Hungarian 


ultimatum to Serbia after the murders in Sarajevo were unfounded, though 
enforced familiarity with conspiracy and subversion on a scale undreamed 
of by earlier generations suggests to us that there was, after all, some fire 
behind all that smoke. 

The really significant factor explaining not only the crime of Sarajevo 
but its cataclysmic effects lies deeper, however, than any secret-service 
skulduggery in the Balkans, deeper even than the rivalry between Russian 
and Austrian imperialism, than the competition for commercial and mari- 
time supremacy between England and Germany, than French irredentism 
or the general European armaments race. Francis Ferdinand and Gavrilo 
Princip typify not merely opposing national interests but two conflicting 
social orders, two ages of history, two incompatible patterns of human 
destiny. In a sense they were both victims and so are all of us of the 
same revolutionary process: the decline and fall of the dynastic system in 
Europe and of the social structures it supported. In necessarily broad 
strokes it is the story of this twentieth-century Gotterdammerung that the 
present book attempts to relate. 


Flashbacks to a Sunset World 

o 1 

the last Sunday of June 1914, a young Viennese man of 
letters sat reading under the chestnut trees at Baden, on 
the edge of the Wiener Wald, that green embossment of hilly forest which 
stamps the Danubian plain a few miles south of the capital. From time to 
time he put aside his book and looked about him in delight, only faintly 
tinged with irony. To the eye of a connoisseur, the little watering place had 
the charm of some tasteful bauble from an unfashionable period, offered 
at a bargain; its authentic Biedermayer villas and the neat, shady park 
where Beethoven loved to walk, were perfect in their kind. The sky was an 
even-tempered blue; the air was warm but light and elegant, correct for 
the season. The wives and daughters of Vienna's insouciant bourgeoisie 
chattered as they strolled along the flower-bordered paths in the artful 
innocence of starched, frilly white; well-shined carriages rolled along the 
gravel drives, the polished brass of their fixtures blinking in the sun like 
heliographs. In the outdoor music kiosk of the casino the orchestra paid 
uninspired but respectful tribute to the less exacting masters of a high 

Suddenly, the music stopped in the middle of a bar, jarring every Vien- 
nese ear within range. The man of letters, Stefan Zweig, then in his early 
thirties, looked up from his book. The musicians, as he later described the 
scene in his memoirs, were packing their instruments and beginning to walk 
out of the pavilion. Excited promenaders crowded around the little struc- 
ture, reading or discussing the official communiqu6 which had just been 
tacked up on one of its columns: the announcement of the double murder 
in Sarajevo. It created a sensation, but as Zweig noted, a short-lived one, 
marked by only perfunctory sorrow. The disappearance of the grumpy 


ungemutlich heir to the Habsburg crown left no irreparable sense of be- 
reavement among his prospective subjects. The circumstances of his death 
were, of course, shocking, but royal assassinations were not a rarity in 
pre-war Europe. 

"They are shooting us like sparrows from the roofs," Francis Ferdinand 
himself had remarked a couple of years earlier on hearing of the King of 
Portugal's violent end. 

Elsewhere throughout the Continent the sensation was even milder. News 
traveled at the time no faster than messages in Morse code could be tapped 
out on a telegraph key, and Sunday extras were frowned on by the relatively 
sedate journalism of the era. All over Europe the same brilliant sun that 
had beaten down in Sarajevo on the Duchess of Hohenberg's parasol, 
shone on carefree throngs as it had already shone for many days, and 
would continue to shine, in what surviving Europeans later recalled with 
nostalgia as the most magical of all summers; on decorously covered 
bathers lolling beside the caf6-au-lait waters of the Danube; or upon the 
Dalmatian beaches; on Parisians promenading in the Bois; on Londoners 
strolling in Hyde Park; on straw hats in leafy beer gardens; on white sails 
skimming across the Baltic. To most of these millions the day remained in 
every way cloudless to the end. 

Where the tidings from Sarajevo were known they produced some con- 
cernthe Balkan powder barrel was already an established journalistic 
clich6 but rarely any forebodings of doom. In Munich an unsuccessful 
student of architecture who had recently moved from Vienna in an incon- 
clusive attempt to escape the loathed promiscuity of proletarian slum life, 
did experience a kind of somber tingling in his morbidly sensitive nerves 
when he heard the news, but was characteristically muddled as to its 

"I was filled with muffled dread at this vengeance of an inscrutable 
destiny," Adolf Hitler relates in his book Mein Kampf. "The greatest friend 
of the Slavs had fallen under the bullets of Slav fanatics." 

The other ultimate beneficiary of those same bullets, Vladimir Hich 
Ulyanov, then forty-four and already better known in Russian exile circles 
under his pen name of Lenin, was more lucid in his reactions, but appar- 
ently no more clairvoyant. As the leader of the extremist faction of Russian 
Marxists who called themselves Bolsheviks Lenin was a professional revo- 
lutionary, and since the Czar's police did not think highly of this profession, 
he spent most of his adult life exercising it from bases outside Russia. At 
the time he was temporarily installed in a remote village of Austrian Galicia 
(today part of Poland) at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, conveniently 
near the Russian border, and he learned about Sarajevo on returning from 
a Sunday walk with some Russian emigr6 friends. It was basic Marxist 
doctrine that war between the capitalist powers was inevitable, bringing 


revolution in its wake, but Lenin was chronically suspicious of the revolu- 
tionary romanticism bubbling under the dry crust of Marxist dialectic in 
the minds of his comrades, and he warned against basing any false hopes 
on the Archduke's assassination. 

'War between Austria and Russia would be very useful to the cause of 
the revolution in Western Europe," Lenin had written a year earlier to one 
of the most incorrigible of the revolutionary romantics, the Russian writer, 
Maxim Gorky. "But it is hard to believe that Francis Joseph and Nicholas 
will give us this pleasure." 

The crime at Sarajevo had not invalidated this pronouncement, he main- 
tained with his usual dogmatism. 

"There is nothing to cause anxiety," wrote General Zurlinden, the re- 
spected military commentator of the Paris Figaro, no less dogmatically. 

"I cannot imagine the old gentleman in Schoenbrunn [Francis Joseph] 
will go to war, and certainly not if it is a war over Archduke Francis Ferdi- 
nand," Wilhelm II of Germany is said to have declared to intimates. 

"It can either be a debarras or an embarras [an embarrassment or a 
disembarrassment]," was the diplomatically judicious comment of the Kai- 
ser's former Chancellor, Prince von Billow, on Francis Ferdinand's tragic 

The most superbly uncomplicated as well as genuinely human reac- 
tion, was that of Britain's King George V. 

"Terrible shock for the dear old Emperor/' is the laconic notation in his 

Francis Joseph himself learned the news sitting at his desk in his summer 
villa at Bad Ischl, the fashionable watering-place of Vienna society. His 
seventy-seven-year-old aide-de-camp, Count Edouard Paar, had been 
called to the telephone the Emperor refused to have any such newfangled 
contraptions in his office and in accordance with standing instructions, 
had taken down the message from Sarajevo in writing. Breathing heavily, 
too overcome with emotion to speak, the elderly courtier returned and 
with trembling hand laid the hastily scrawled note in front of the imperial 
master he had served and loved for half a century. For a few moments 
Francis Joseph, to whom fate had already dealt so many cruel blows during 
his eighty-four years of life, sat woodenly, with his eyes closed, as if stunned 
by this latest one. When he finally spoke, however, it was not grief for the 
nephew he had always detested that thickened his voice, but awe at the 
Divine retribution which at last had punished the dynastic sin of Francis 
Ferdinand's morganatic marriage, and erased a blot from the Habsburg 
genealogical table. 

"Horrible," he murmured, more to himself than to Paar. "The Almighty 
does not allow Himself to be challenged with impunity. A higher power 
has restored the order which I unfortunately was unable to uphold." 


No words could bring home more sharply the mental gap between our 
own age of political insomniacs and the generation of sleepwalkers that 
stumbled unawares over the ledge of doom during that halcyon summer of 

Looking back during the tormented twenties on the pre-war Europe, of 
which he was one of the most brilliant survivors, Sir Winston Churchill in 
a few characteristically broad, vivid strokes painted a masterly if slightly 
nostalgic word portrait of this vanished world, so close to us in time, so 
distant in mood and temper. 

"Nations and Empires, crowned with princes and potentates, rose ma- 
jestically on every side, lapped in the accumulated treasures of the long 
peace," he wrote in The World Crisis. "AH were fitted and fastened, it 
seemed securely, into an immense cantilever. The two mighty European 
systems faced each other glittering and clanking in their panoply, but with 
a tranquil gaze. A polite, discrete, pacific, and on the whole sincere diplo- 
macy spread its web of connections over both. A sentence in a dispatch, an 
observation by an ambassador, a cryptic phrase in parliament seemed suffi- 
cient to adjust from day to day the balance of the prodigious structure. 
. . . The old world, in its sunset, was fair to see." 

Due allowance must be made, of course, for the magic of the Church- 
illian prose. The sunset view was not so fair from every angle or to all 
observers, as Sir Winston remembered, nor as we shall soon discover 
was the old-world diplomacy quite so sincere. In stressing the importance 
of pre-war Europe's dynastic institutions, however, the British historian did 
not exaggerate. Princes and potentates were in fact dominant if not always 
quite majestic features of the political and social landscape in what was 
then the heartland of the civilized world. In the first decade of the twentieth 
century, the monarchic-aristocratic order of society, based on a king by 
divine right and a ruling class largely recruited from the aristocracy which 
we carelessly tend to think of as having passed away with the eighteenth 
century, not only continued to coexist with nineteenth century bourgeois- 
nationalist democracy itself beginning to feel the pressure of the nascent 
racial or collectist movements but in several parts of the world still over- 
shadowed its supposed successor. It was not Marie Antoinette on the eve 
of the French Revolution, but Nicholas II on the eve of the Russian one, 
who, brushing aside the warnings of a friendly diplomat, said, "Do you 
mean that I am to regain the confidence of my people, Ambassador, or 
that they are to regain my confidence?" 

The New World taking the crypto-dictatorships of Latin America at 
their face value was predominantly democratic and republican. So were 
France, Portugal (after 1910), Switzerland, Andorra and San Marino. 
Britain, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Scandinavian states were 


then, as now, constitutional, democratic monarchies though considerably 
less democratic in the social sense, than they are today. 

Even England's easygoing Edward VII never forgot the royal blood that 
set him apart from ordinary mortals. While still Prince of Wales (as Vir- 
ginia Cowles relates the anecdote in Edward VII and His Circle) he gave 
precedence at a ball over the Crown Prince of Germany to a visiting poten- 
tate from the South Seas: Kalakua, King of the Cannibal Islands. "Either 
the brute is a king," Edward explained to the indignant Germans, "or he is 
an ordinary black nigger, and if he is not a King, why is he here?" 

Elsewhere across the whole Eurasian land mass, kings or emperors not 
only reigned but ruled. From the Vosges mountains to Vladivostok, from 
the Arctic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf with the exception of the turbulent 
peasant-principalities of the Balkans they ruled, like their ancestors, by 
divine right, their absolutism tempered only slightly, if at all, by nominal 
constitutions and feeble, easily manipulated parliaments. So far from having 
withered away, the autocratic principle on the eve of the great conflict was 
enjoying, in parts of Europe, a kind of ideological Indian summer, thanks 
to the ingenious sophistries of various contemporary apologists of neo- 

"Take my word for it Nicky," Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany wrote to 
his imperial cousin Nicholas II of Russia to warn him against the danger 
of an alliance with regicide and republican France, "the curse of God lies 
heavy on that nation. Heaven had imposed a sacred duty ... on us 
Christian kings and emperors to uphold the doctrine of the divine right 
of kings." 

Yet industrialized Germany was socially and culturally the most enlight- 
ened of the great powers at lie time and Wilhelm himself an exceptionally 
progressive representative of the imperial dynasties that constituted the 
pillars of the traditional European order. There were four of them: the 
ja Qmnaay, which then, owaed Alsace-Lorraine and part 
Halpsburgs in Msfri^HwgW, % vast mosaic of subject 
races, and nations which stretched from Switzerland to beyond the ,Qu> 
patbiaBS ^d fromjbe Bay^a% h Alps, r tp,the Adriatic, including the territory 
of gres^at-day Chechoslovakia ,, aad about half that of Yugoslavia; the 
Rpmatxo-YS.iu.Russia^ including Finland and most of Poland; aij<l t& Os- 
manlis XQttono^ns) in^ the, l^yrk&k, .Empire whiclji in ^addition tp j94^IP 
TfuSey, coj^ris^ to f l9j2' 

Llbya*"aSi31ubstantial parf^of Thrace and Macedonia. The empires ruled 
by these famiUes controlled the greater part of the Continent's military 
and econpj^i^wer. B^etweej^.theipt they had gome 400,000,000 subjects^ 
belonging Jto^ hundreds of ra.ces and including proud, once 

- , T() 

diustering around the great imperial powers in frequently shifting pat- 


terns of alliance were the minor dynasties of southern and southeastern 
Europe: Spain, Italy, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Rumania, Bulgaria, 
and Greece. Italy was allied with Austria-Hungary and Germany in the 
Triple Alliance, while other treaties linked Rumania and Turkey closely 
to this bloc of central powers; Albania after 1913-and Bulgaria, origi- 
nally oriented toward Russia, were more loosely attached. Serbia and 
Montenegro were clients of Russia, the ally of France; Greece felt the 
contrary tug of German and of British influence, as did Spain. Within their 
own realms, the monarchs held sway over vassal throngs of princelings, 
dukes, tribal chiefs, barons, and lesser nobility. (In Germany the imperial 
hierarchy included no less than twenty-two ruling dynasties, among them 
the royal houses of Bavaria and Saxony.) At least in the more civilized 
states, the nobles had long since yielded up their feudal powers to the cen- 
tral authority, but in most of the monarchies their social prestige along 
with the de facto privilege it confers remained enormous. 

The rising new aristocracy of industry, typified by bourgeois dynasties 
like the Krupps, and the quasi-hereditary bureaucratic caste which earlier 
had challenged the old nobility, by the turn of the nineteenth century had 
come to terms with it. Rivalry had largely given way to partnership and 
partnership was producing an increasing intermingling. Both classes gained 
materially in the exchange; each seems to have been spiritually bankrupted 
by the contact. The aristocrats started on the moral decline into cafe society. 
The parvenu power-elites, only moderately attracted by the aristocratic 
cult of honor, enthusiastically adopted the blue-blooded vices, and aped 
the haughtiness of the high-born; the generous idealism that had animated 
their fathers in the revolutionary year 1848 and their great-grandfathers 
at the time of the French Revolution in 1789 became for many an in- 
creasingly dim, discreditable memory. The snobbery of wealth compounded, 
instead of countervailing, that of birth; the insolence of the successful 
climber reinforced the arrogance of the titled ancestor-worshiper. At a time 
when dangerous new pressures were building up from below, the European 
ruling classes, both supporting and supported by an outdated dynastic sys- 
tem, not only clung to the Victorian credo that social inequalities are some- 
how part of the divine plan, but following the example of their monarchs, 
drew on the dialectical resources of contemporary pseudo-science, or per- 
verted the intent of unwary thinkers like Nietzsche, to bolster an already 
inflated sense of institutional self-esteem. The practical implications of these 
attitudes were sometimes quite monstrous. When the S.S. Titanic, the pride 
of early twentieth century marine technology, rammed an iceberg and 
quickly sank on its maiden trip across the Atlantic, most of the first-class 
passengers, mcluding men as well as women and children, got away in 
half-empty lifeboats, but 53 children of third-dass passengers not to men- 
tion their parents went down with the ship. 


"I only realized that the situation was serious when I saw a working-class 
passenger on the first-class deck," one of the survivors recounted later. 

Our fathers' generation not only recognized class privileges that we con- 
sider ludicrous or inhuman, but had a much sharper eye than ours for 
social frontiers. Pre-war European society was stratified like the passenger 
list of an ocean liner: first-class, second-class, third-class, and steerage. 
"To become an officer in the Prussian army," remarks Kuerenberg, the 
biographer of Wilhelm II, himself a former member of this elite corps, 
"it was necessary ... to furnish proof of good origin, and here the fact of 
having a father who was a shop-keeper was quite sufficient to ensure dis- 
qualification. An ambitious man in Germany could become a Commercial 
Councillor or even a Privy Councillor ... he might even secure the en- 
nobling *von' but to become a reserve lieutenant was not so easy." The 
caste system was pushed to its ultime refinements in Austria-Hungary, 
where the ruling classes were rigorously divided into the first and the 
second society, the former consisting only of the old nobility, the latter 
including the administrative, financial, and intellectual elites, and the newer 
aristocracy. The Austrian obsession with social status was reflected in the 
proliferation of honorific titles or appellations that survives to this day. 
Sigmund Freud's son recalls that while doing his service in the pre-war 
AustTO-Hungarian Army, which allowed him to keep private quarters in 
Vienna, he once notified the chambermaid at his lodging house that he 
was expecting a female visitor for tea. 

"Ja wohl, Hen Einjahrfreivilliger [Yes, indeed, Mr. One- Year- Volun- 
teer]," she replied, "I'll put clean sheets on the bed." 

ITie social stability associated with such a keen sense of hierarchy had, 
of course, some real virtues to counterbalance its injustices. The security 
or at least sense of security enjoyed in pre-war Europe by most of its 
population, save for the poorest classes and for certain chronically un- 
fortunate minorities like the Jews in Russia, or the Armenians in Turkey, 
can hardly be imagined in our anxiety-ridden generation. 

The old world, as Churchill saw it in its sunset glory, had undeniable 
charms, along with some less attractive features. The need for colorful 
ceremonial to uphold the prestige of a way of life that every year looked 
more and more anachronistic to more and more men generated a bright 
social glitter. The two decades before 1914 were the heyday of conspicuous 
consumption, the age of jade and lobster. The long peace, with its accu- 
mulated Churchillian treasures, and a generally expanding economy, had 
furnished a solid underpinning for both civic display and for private self- 
indulgence; monuments and waistlines alike took on the bulge of opulence. 
The liberating influence of art nowveau gradually merging into modern 
style as its lotus tendrils writhed up from the Paris rn&ro- was partly re- 
sponsible for the former; the latter owed something to Paul Poiret, the 


daring Paris couturier who freed the female body from corsets, and to 
Edward VII, who introduced a note of easeful elegance, suited to his favor- 
ite sports, into masculine attire. 

(Edward indulged in various outdoor activities, such as racing, shooting, 
and romping with the wood nymphs recruited for him by his faithful valet 
in the bushes at Manenbad, where he took the waters every summer. He 
probably enjoyed himself most, however, at Maxim's famous restaurant 
in Paris; to his cousin, King Leopold of Belgium and other wealthy or 
blue-blooded habitues of the establishment, he was noted as a connoisseur 
both of the cuisine and of the high-priced cocottes who at certain levels 
of contemporary society personified the feminine ideal. To one of these 
reigning queens of the demimonde, La Belle Otero, Edward once sent a 
billet-doux of truly regal brevity: his calling card with the dial of a watch 
scrawled on it, the hands at five o'clock. She accepted the rendezvous and 
was rewarded to her disgust with a valuable duck-shoot near the Channel 

The quickening pace of scientific and technological discovery, especially 
around the turn of the century, contributed to the prevailing euphoria. The 
revolutionary concepts worked out by the young German mathematician, 
Albert Einstein, in his General Theory of Relativity (published in 1905) 
might have no practical significance, but the handful of advanced thinkers 
able to appreciate their theoretical implications recognized them at once 
as milestones in the history of civilization. More popular and less esoteric 
ones in various fields of endeavor were the contemporary achievements of 
Freud, Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, Louis Bleriot, who 
successfully attempted an audacious nonstop flight across the English Chan- 
nel in one of the flying machines recently invented by the Wright Brothers, 
and Paul Ehrlich, the German chemist, whose discovery of salvarsan the 
first effective specific against syphilis in 1910 came too late, however, to 
save some of the age's most noted boulevardiers from their chief occupa- 
tional hazard (Archduke Otto of Austria whose youthful high jinks once 
included leaping stark naked, except for his sword belt, out of a private 
dining room at Sacher's cafe in the path of a visiting English peeress, paid 
the wages of sin in later life by having to wear a leather nose at public 

The intellectual and artistic life of the period was equally tonic, at least 
to bold young minds. The gilded youth of London, Paris, Berlin, and 
Vienna might generally be content to scandalize the elderly by sipping cock- 
tails as it one-stepped through life to the ping of tennis balls and the gentle 
tinkling of bicycle bells, but earnest, intelligentand wealthy young aristo- 
crats like the early friends of Lady Diana Duff Cooper enjoyed rarer pleas- 
ures. They thrilled to the audacities of social iconoclasts like Shaw and 
H. G. Wells; they cheered the standards of literary and aesthetic innovation 


or revolt hoisted by Rilke, Rimbaud, the French post-impressionists, 
Diaghilev, Richard Strauss, Schonberg; they nearly swooned at the thought 
of Isadora Duncan shedding her neo-Grecian tunic and dancing in prayer- 
ful ecstasy on the Acropolis. 

"There was a general new look in everything in those last years before 
the first war," Lady Diana wrote in her memoirs. "We felt it and revelled 
in it." 

The revel was not always joyous, however, even for the privileged. Little 
by little the optimism inherited from the buoyant nineties began to lose its 
bounce. As the omens multiplied as social or political tensions grew 
sharper, as the war clouds rolled up from the Balkans, as the unsinkable 
Titanic went down in the Northern twilight with all her lights blazing 
and the band playing Nearer, My God, to Thee a note of doubt and pes- 
simism increasingly crept into the cultural concert. For some, up to the 
very end the time remained one of those June moments of history, in which 
to be young is very heaven; for others, of every age, it had never been any- 
thing but sheer hell. 

Like most transitional periods, it was a paradoxical age, in which mil- 
lions enjoyed unprecedented well-being and other millions lived in more 
than usually abject misery. Good taste flourished, and so did the pompous 
broad-buttocked vulgarity admired by drummers and monarchs. There was 
a morning tang in the air, and a midnight staleness. The social order was 
firmly knit, but subject to the torque of mortal stresses. Revolutionaries 
with murder in their hearts lurked among the geranium beds; counter- 
terrorists, in the guise of policemen, stalked them from behind the potted 
palms* Out of such contradictions the old world's winding sheet was 
finally woven. They were apparent nearly everywhere in European society; 
but probably were most glaring, as well as most colorful, in Vienna, 

We all know what peace is, but it is difficult for any of us now living 
even to imagine the long peace our fathers knew, the sleekness and the fat 
of it. At the time of Sarajevo there had not been a major war in Europe 
proper since the Franco-Prussian one in 1870, forty-three years earlier. 
Within the Habsburg Empire, which had not won a battle since 1848 or 
even fought one since 1866 (when its armies were brutally but quickly over- 
whelmed by the rising Prussian militarism) there were fifty-year-old subjects 
of Francis Joseph who had lived their whole lives without ever being bel- 
ligerents or learning to call any nation the enemy, Such experiences mark a 
man, above all in Vienna; the enjoyment of peace has always been a special 
Viennese talent. In 1683 the city rendered a notable service to Christendom 
by withstanding a Turkish siege, which if it had been successful, would 
have opened all central Europe to infidel invasion. Vienna recalls the vic- 
tory with modest pride, but in the collective memory of its citizens the 


really noteworthy event occurred after the Turks had withdrawn, when a 
quick-witted Polish mercenary picked up on the battlefield a sack of dark, 
aromatic beans, previously unknown in the West. A bronze plaque on the 
coffeehouse that the Pole founded still commemorates the occasion; from 
the exotic pleasure to which he introduced his adopted fellow countrymen, 
the Viennese have elaborated over the centuries an art of living and vir- 
tually a whole way of life. The coffeehouse culture that reached its apogee 
in Vienna before 1914 could flourish only in a peaceful world; to the 
Viennese, as to most other Europeans at the time, peace itself was some- 
thing to be savored among habitues in an atmosphere of mild and un- 
hurried sociability, sugared to taste, and with plenty of schlag floating on it. 

Peace, in the Habsburg Empire was gemwrfzcA that untranslatable and 
typically Viennese compound of comfort, charm, and sympathy but it 
was also gay and even dashing. The aura of romance which in the public 
imagination still haloes the vanished institutions of the Dual Monarchy, is 
a reflection not so much of their real or supposed splendor, as of the Euro- 
pean and domestic tranquillity which they helped maintain for nearly five 
decades. The handsome young hussars who waltz their way through so 
many Viennese operettas are absurd because war had come to seem an 
absurdity, and this very absurdity made them figures of glamour as well as 
fun to their audience. In retrospect we tend to see the carefree social life 
of pre-war Europe as a kind of death waltz on the brink of doom, but to 
those who took part in it, it was not that at all. People did not throw 
themselves into a rout of pleasures to forget their worries; they simply 
joined in the dance to express their sense of well-being and to manifest 
their solidarity. In a society of the content the only kind the social con- 
science of the age recognized pleasure had come to seem almost a civic 

Nowhere, of course, was this discipline more conscientiously observed 
than in Vienna. Scholars have estimated that one out of every three babies 
born in the pre-war Habsburg capital was illegitimate. Various factors 
contributed to this statistical exploit the general social and economic back- 
wardness of the Empire, Austrian schlamperei, and above all the red tape 
surrounding marriage and divorce, which made these formalities seem just 
too much trouble to many of the Emperor's subjects. It would be an error 
to conclude from such evidence that Vienna was a city of unbridled license, 
but it was unquestionably easygoing. 

On the whole the Viennese, despite their legendary sophistication, 
stressed the simpler pleasures: eating, drinking, flirting, and dancing. The 
dance, especially the waltz, was a general passion. Impoverished nobles 
skimped all year on their country estates to give one of the formal balls, 
with dancing until dawn, around which the social season in Vienna re- 
volved. At more modest levels of society, the public dance halls were nearly 


always crowded. One, claiming to be the largest in Europe, maintained a 
fully equipped emergency maternity room for the convenience of its female 
patrons. Viennese past the age of romance, if there were any, could console 
themselves with such innocent pleasures as swaying above the trees of the 
Prater in one of the red gondolas of the Big Wheel. This giant steel toy 
was erected in 1898 to commemmorate the fiftieth year of Francis Joseph's 
reign, an eminently Viennese tribute to a much-loved monarch, and has 
been turning tirelessly ever since, for the pride and pleasure of those citizens 
who are not too filled with beer or whipped cream to enjoy the view of 
their beloved city. 

The aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie of Vienna, like their peers in 
other European capitals of that day had no morbid inhibitions about letting 
the less-favored see that they were having a good time. As James Laver 
remarks in his delectable Edwardian Promenade: 

"The Edwardian age was probably the last period in history when the 
fortunate thought they could give pleasure to others by displaying their 
good fortune before them." 

Extravagant entertainment was one of the forms of display whereby the 
privileged classes simultaneously kept up the morale of the lower orders 
and maintained their own station. Describing a ball at the palace of a great 
Austrian aristocrat, Lord Hamilton, a pre-war British ambassador to the 
Habsburg court reported the scene as follows: 

"It was Prince S 's custom on these occasions to have three hundred 
young peasants sent up from his country estates and to have them thrust 
into the family livery. These bucolic youths, looking very sheepish in their 
unfamiliar plush breeches and stockings, with their unkempt heads pow- 
dered, and with swords at their sides, stood motionless on every step of the 

(A less feudal, but probably no less expensive "Venetian Dinner" given 
by a British millionaire at the Savoy Hotel in London was served in a large, 
specially constructed gondola, moored in the flooded courtyard of the hotel, 
while smaller craft and live swans floated around it. At about the same 
time the Paris couturier, Paul Poiret, stirred local society writers to a high 
pitch of ecstasy by one of the balls he gave in his private hotel on the Fau- 
borg St Honor6. It was transformed for the occasion to an Arabian Nights 
palace guarded by half-naked blackamoors and enlivened by pink ibises, 
monkeys, and parrots in the trees, from which hung luminous fruit.) 

Dress, of course, was an essential form of display. Being seen in the 
right clothes at the right time in the right place was one of the obsessions 
of the age. A male guest at a quiet British weekend party was expected to 
don, or change into, the approved costumes for breakfast and church, for 


lounging about in the morning, for eating lunch, for lounging about in the 
afternoon, for taking tea (a velvet jacket) and for dinner (white tie and 
tails). Female guests put on filmy tea gowns for the afternoon ritual; for 
dinner they wore formal dresses with trains and carried ostrich feather 
fans. For motoring, an increasingly popular sport but one that in 1914 
still had considerable snob appeal, both sexes wore full-length sealskin 
coats, veils or mufflers, and goggles. In Vienna clothes were still more 
varied and splendid especially the uniforms worn by officers. The annual 
May Corso of fashionable equipages along the Ringstrasse and in the Prater 
outshone even such masterpieces of group-exhibitionism as Britain's Ascot 
or the Grand Prix in Paris. Monarchs were naturally expected to set a bril- 
liant example to their subjects in matters of dress and decorations and 
they usually did; Germany's Wilhelm II had the gaudiest wardrobe, and 
England's Edward VII was unrivaled in the casual range, but the all-round 
champion of the sartorial mot juste was the veteran Francis Joseph. 

A few years before the war the Swedes modified the cut of their uniforms 
at about the time King Gustavus Adolphus visited Vienna for the golden 
jubilee of Francis Joseph's reign. "Great heavens," the King of Sweden said 
as he stepped from the train and saw his host walking toward him, im- 
peccably got up as a Swedish general, "the new uniform already? Why, 
I don't have one myself yet." 

Travel was another fashionable form of display. Crowned heads visited 
back and forth as frequently as lesser mortals. The German Kaiser rarely 
failed to take his yacht to the Cowes Regatta, the climax of the social 
season in Britain, and occasionally won it. Going abroad held magic charm, 
providing it was at the right season. July was for Deauville, Biarritz, and 
Le Touquet; in August came the German baths season at Baden-Baden, 
Marienbad, Wiesbaden, and other fashionable resorts. In winter, after the 
close of the hunting and country house season, the fashionable migrated 
to the French Riviera, especially to Monte Carlo with its famed gambling 
tables. (Just before the war a small adventurous avant-garde defected to 
St. Moritz, where it soon became chic to be seen sliding down the slopes on 
skis, wearing knee breeches and with a balaclava helmet on one's head.) 

Passports were not yet required in most European countries, and the 
leading currencies could be exchanged everywhere; no customs inspector's 
eyes turned hard if he heard the chink of gold sovereigns, francs or marks 
as a traveler's luggage was shifted. This glorious freedom of movement 
has inspired some writers to draw an overidyllic picture of pre-1914 Europe 
as a continent practically without internal frontiers. In reality much de- 
pended on who you were and what you were traveling for; there were few 
restrictions for wealthy and titled pleasure seekers, but some 400,000 of 
Francis Joseph's poorer subjects were annually forced by economic pres- 
sures to slip by stealth through the primitive iron curtain set up to halt 


emigration from his realms, while the long Russian borders were policed 
almost as closely then as now. 

Despite such necessary qualifications, the cosmopolitanism of pre-war 
Europe often seems amazing by present-day standards. As might be ex- 
pected, Vienna, the polyglot capital of a multi-racial empire, outshone the 
rest of the Continent in this respect, too. Stefan Zweig relates how the great 
Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren shed tears when the German Count Zeppe- 
lin's dirigible balloon crashed on its maiden flight after having circled the 
Cathedral of Strasbourg, and how the Viennese shouted with joy when the 
Frenchman, Bleriot, flew the Channel. In the leading Vienna cafes anyone 
with the price of a cup of coffee and enough time on his hands could read 
every day not only the whole Austro-Hungarian press but all the important 
German and Swiss papers, the London Times, the Paris Le Temps and 
Journal des Debats and miscellaneous Italian, Russian, and American pa- 
pers. The young Viennese intellectual with a penchant for the liberal arts 
could find there the foremost literary and art reviews of the whole world 
such as the Mercure de France, Studio, and the Burlington Magazine. He 
knew all about the latest avant-garde play produced in Paris and the newest 
trends in painting or sculpture everywhere; he could and did sit for hours 
with his friends arguing about European poets who had not yet been pub- 
lished in their own countries. 

Admiration for the achievement of foreign writers or artists was en- 
hanced by the reverence among Europeans at the time above all in Vienna 
for art and literature generally. The universal sneer had not yet been per- 
fected; debunking had not come into fashion. To have crossed Gustav 
Mahler in the street, to have recognized Richard Strauss or Arthur Schnitz- 
ler or Hugo von Hofmannsthal sitting in a cafe, were events to be recounted 
to one's friends like personal triumphs. If one had had the incredible good 
luck to meet a leading actor or actress of the Burgthcater, mere words 
could not suffice to communicate the intensity of the experience; one might 
be quite speechless with hero-worship. The theater was the great Viennese 
passion and actors were demigods, outside and above the rigid caste system 
of the Habsburg Empire. When the great tragedienne, Charlotte Wolters, 
died, Zweig's old cook wept, though she had never seen her, nor set foot 
inside the Burgtheater. 

Before we shed tears ourselves for having been born too late, or in the 
wrong place, to prove the pleasures of so refined a civilization, it might be 
well to note the dour comment of the greatest of all modern Viennese 
thinkers at the apogee of the city's cultural flowering. 

"Vienna," Sigmund Freud wrote, a few years before the war to his Ger- 
man friend Wilhelm Fliess, "after all is Vienna, that is to say disgusting in 
the highest degree." 

Freud detested the moral squalor of an age and a society whose sex- 


uality was simultaneously overheated and hypocritical; he was appalled by 
the submerged vestiges of primitive savagery that his new technique of 
psychoanalysis was constantly uncovering in the minds of supposedly civi- 
lized twentieth-century adults. The roots of Freud's loathing for the city that 
was his home during seventy-eight of his eighty-three years were more per- 
sonal, however, as Manes Sperber, himself a Viennese and a psychiatrist, 
has pointed out in a brilliant essay. By the last years before the war Freud 
was already famous throughout the medical world and beginning to be 
honored by intellectuals generally, but in Vienna intellectuals, with rare 
exceptions, were not considered hoffdhig (which means, literally, worthy of 
being received at court, and by extension, recognized in the highest social 
circles). For that matter, not all aristocrats possessed that precious grace; 
Countess Karolyi, the wife of the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Berlin, 
was greatly commiserated with in diplomatic circles because, having only 
twelve of the required sixteen quarters of nobility, she was not hoffahig. 
In England at the time, as the future Socialist, Lady Warwick, explained 
to the popular novelist Elinor Glyn, 'Doctors and solicitors might be in- 
vited to garden parties, though never of course to lunch or dinner." Vienna 
society was stricter, particularly in the case of Jewish doctors. The social 
and racial arrogance of the European ruling classes, which contributed so 
largely to the revolutionary upheavals of the following generation above 
all to the anticolonialist revolution after World War II flourished in its 
most anachronistic, if not in its most extreme form in the cultured, cos- 
mopolitan capital of the Habsburgs before 1914. Moreover, the Viennese 
anti-Semitism that inflicted many bitter humiliations on Freud and pro- 
voked his undying resentment was not confined to the upper strata of 
Austrian society: it poisoned the whole atmosphere of the capital, in fact 
of the entire Empire. As a small child before his parents moved to Vienna, 
Freud once saw his father forced off the sidewalk by an anti-Semitic bully 
in the family's native Galician town. 

"Vienna, where Freud lived from his fourth to his 82nd year . . . was 
the most anti-Semitic of all the great cities of the world," says Sperber. 
(Czarist Russia was the most anti-Semitic country, however. "The Ameri- 
can nation owes it to itself to confess its horror when it hears of massacres 
as terrible as those of Kishinev," said President Theodore Roosevelt after 
a particularly atrocious pogrom in southern Russia.) Hitler, who lived in 
Vienna from 1907 to 1913, did not have to look far to discover the ele- 
ments of racial doctrine that he later elaborated into the most monstrous 
of twentieth-century ideologies. They were ready at hand, as William A. 
Jenks has demonstrated in the contemporary speeches and writings of Karl 
Lueger, the immensely popular Christian Socialist Mayor of Vienna, and 
in those of the Pan-German demagogue Georg von Schonerer. One par- 
ticularly rabid follower of Lueger, Ernst Schneider, even foreshadowed the 


Nazi extermination camps by publicly recommending that all Jews be placed 
aboard a large ship which would then be scuttled on the high seas. 

Vienna's anti-Semitism along with the conflicting nationalist passions 
that erupted in incessant student brawls at the university was no doubt 
intensified by the social misery of which Hitler got such a bitter taste during 
his six years in the Habsburg capital. At the time the young would-be archi- 
tect from Linz was walking the streets of Vienna trying to sell his uninspired 
water colors, followed in his own self-pitying but accurate phrase by his 
"faithful companion, hunger," there was a grave housing shortage in the 
city, brought on by rapid industrialization. Some 45 per cent of the Vien- 
,nese population in 1900 lived in fiats of one or two small rooms; one 
Viennese in twenty had no room of his own at all, but lived as a bettgeher, 
sleeping, for a few pennies, in someone else's bed while its regular occupant 
was at work, or spending the nights in one of the ghastly "warming rooms" 
(flophouses) maintained by private charity. The most miserable slept on 
the grass of the Prater in summer and lived all winter, as Hitler was able to 
observe, in the damp tepid stench of the sewage canals. Hitler himself was 
doubtless a bettgeher for a time, and Jenks believes that he probably slept 
on occasion in the Prater or in a "warming room." In later life, the Nazi 
Fuehrer still shuddered to recall those "pitiful dens" and those "sinister 
pictures of dirt and repugnant filth, and worse still." 

Though housing conditions were worse in Vienna than in most Euro- 
pean cities, they were bad nearly everywhere. Sunset to thousands of home- 
less men, women, and children in London meant the closing of the parks 
and the beginning of the all-night shuffle from doorway to doorway, from 
one temporary shelter to another, until the Green Park, the first to open, 
admitted them at 4:15 A.M. to its lawns and benches. They would still be 
huddled there, ragged, haggard, and sleeping fitfully, when the well-dressed 
inhabitants of the West End would turn out for their fashionable morning 
constitutional. The pitiful spectacle did not unduly distress the rudimentary 
social conscience of the day, no more than did the grim sociological data 
that writers like Shaw and Wells were beginning to publicize the fact, for 
example, that one out of every three adult workers in contemporary Lon- 
don died on public charity, or that in the poorest areas of rural England, 
one infant out of four never reached the age of twelve months. The welfare 
state except possibly in Bismarck's Prussia was still two generations and 
two wars in the future. Few, if any, public controls mitigated the ruthless 
functioning of the free-enterprise capitalism inherited from the nineteenth 
century, with its brutal alternations of insufficiently shared prosperity and 
all-too-widespread depression. Workers' wages, even in good times, were 
shockingly low thirty shillings a week, about $7.50, was considered good 
pay for a married working man in prosperous England, The living stand- 
ards of farm laborers and poor tenant fanners were even lower, almost 


everywhere in Europe, owing in part to the competition of cereal grains 
and meat from the New World. 

Rural conditions were specially bad in Russia and in the Austro- 
Hungarian Empire, where there was a chronic farm problem. In Germany 
the working day for a farm laborer in 1910 was as long 18 hours as it 
had been in 1820, but in the Habsburg lands, hundreds of thousands 
of peasants could not even find work, except at harvest time. The feudal 
backwardness reflected in the high rate of illiteracy 63 per cent in Austrian 
Galicia was rendered nightmarish (as in Russia) by the social dislocations 
of a society in the frenzied early stages of industrialization. The result in 
Austria-Hungary was a steady flow of uprooted and demoralized peasants 
from the countryside into an already badly overcrowded capital. It was not 
surprising that the young Hitler, on the occasions when he found manual 
work, overheard his comrades "reject everything: the nation an invention 
of the capitalist classes; the fatherlandthe bourgeoisie's instrument for 
the exploitation of the working classes; the law a means for oppressing 
the proletariat; morality a principle for turning men into sheep." 

On the whole it seems remarkable that the working class population of 
pre-war Vienna was not more revolutionary. The annual May Day parade 
of workers with red carnations in their buttonholes pouring in from the 
industrial suburbs and marching along the Nobelallee with their women 
and children gave some nervous bourgeois the jitters, but the Social Demo- 
cratic notables who led the procession Victor Adler, Otto Bauer, Karl 
Renner were sober, civilized Viennese intellectuals who liked to be ad- 
dressed as "Comrade Herr Doktor." Leon Trotsky, an exile in Vienna for 
several years before the war and a member of the Social Democratic Party 
himself, listened with scarcely veiled contempt to their academic discussions 
in the smoky back rooms of the Caf6 Central. In his memoirs he later 
derided these innocuous mandarins for not perceiving "that history had 
already poised its gigantic soldier's boot over the ant-heap in which they 
were rushing about with such self-abandon." 

Trotsky was prescient, as he often was, but oversimplified the situation, 
as he not infrequently did. History's boot was poised, but it did not stamp 
down in quite the way he and other doctrinaire Marxists had expected. As 
we shall see more clearly in a later chapter, it was not the forces of social 
revolution, mainly inspired since the mid-nineteenth century by the writings 
of Karl Marx and his disciples, but those of nationalist irredentism within 
the Habsburg Empire and elsewhere that doomed the traditional European 
order handed down from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And 
even the death sentence pronounced on this order by the nationalist fanatics 
might not have been irrevocable had it not been for the invisible but fatal 
processes of decay at work inside the dynastic structures of the four great 
European autocracies. Before taking up the story of their downfall, let us 


pause for a moment longer to study a single revelatory incident that was at 
once a significant milestone on Europe's road to war and an illustration, 
among other things, of certain fatal weaknesses in the old world diplomacy 
that Churchill admired. 


Dynasts and Diplomats 

TN the last week of July 1905, the long white and gold yacht 
X Hohenzollern, flying the imperial pennant with its sable cross 
and the subsequently famous motto, Gott Hit Uns, steamed into the Bay 
of Bjorkoe, off the Finnish coast, and dropped anchor in the clear waters 
of the Baltic, a cable-length from another luxurious pleasure craft that 
already lay there. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, with the Kaiserin, and 
several guests, had arrived to pay a neighborly call on his cousin Nicky- 
Nicholas II, Czar of all the Russias who awaited him, with the Czarina, 
their daughter and the year-old Czarevitch abroad the Romanov yacht 
Stella Polaris. The seemingly casual encounter of two vacationing mon- 
archs and their families was actually the culmination of intense and ultra- 
secret diplomatic preparations. Last-minute arrangements had been settled 
by an exchange of wireless messages, in the private cipher of the two Em- 
perors after their yachts were on the high seas. 

**Not a soul has the slightest idea," read the text of a final top-priority 
eyes-only signal from the Hohenzollern. "All my guests think we're bound 
for Gothland . . . have important news for you. My guests' faces will be 
worth seeing when they suddenly behold your yacht. Tableau! What sort 
of dress for our meeting? Willy/' 

This almost giggly communication expressed the Kaiser's inmost per- 
sonality; the style here was unmistakably the man. A born ham with a 
compulsive urge for the mock-heroic gesture, Wilhelm ranted and postured 
like some men drink. His whole life was a series of charades that he acted 
out with self-applauding zest before a captive audience of European diplo- 
mats and crowned heads unable to take their eyes off the grotesque per- 
formance for a moment lest fate punish the mountebank by accepting one 


of his impersonations at its face value, thus turning farce into real tragedy. 
This, of course, is what finally happened in 1914; the Bjorkoe affair was 
to be a kind of warning. 

In stressing the secrecy of his rendezvous with the Czar, Wilhelm had 
exaggerated only a little. His long-suffering Chancellor, Prince Bernhard 
von Billow, knew about it, but no other German official at the policy- 
making level had been informed. On the Russian side no minister had been 
taken into the Czar's confidence. Yet the diplomatic implications of the 
encounter were sensational. Though international tensions were not yet 
acute in Europe, the two sovereigns belonged to opposing European coali- 
tions. Germany already headed the Triple Alliance, which linked her na- 
tional ambitions and disquietudes with those of Italy and Austria-Hungary, 
Russia's traditional rival in the Balkans. Russia was the military ally of a 
France still mourning over lost Alsace-Lorraine and haunted by dreams of 
revenge for 1870. In the circumstances any personal contact between the 
two Emperors other than routine exchanges of civilities when they hap- 
pened to meet at royal weddings, funerals, and similar occasions was cal- 
culated to plunge all the foreign offices of the Continent into orgies of 

Wilhelm, however, had not slipped off to Bjorkoe just to enjoy a family 
outing with his Russian cousins away from prying journalists and monocled 
gossipmongers. He had come to make history. He was going to outdo his 
old mentor Bismarck, who, after forging German unity and seating Wil- 
helm's grandfather on the Imperial throne, had gained the admiration of 
all Europe's professionals by his adroit diplomacy. 

Bismarck had once taken out reinsurance against (he dangers of en- 
circlement and the fundamental insecurity of the European security system 
by signing a secret nonaggression pact with Russia. The dream of European, 
or world hegemony based on reconciliation between Slav and Teuton has 
recurrently tempted some of the strongest as well as the weakest minds in 
Germany up to the present day; the undulations of Russian foreign policy, 
from Alexander I to Nikita Khrushchev, show that it has some appeal to 
Slavic ones as well. Moreover, in the nineteenth century diplomatic tradi- 
tion inherited from the princely courts of an earlier day, making a deal 
with a potential enemy behind the backs of one's friends or allies had an 
almost irresistible attraction; diplomacy and the comedia deW arte had 
emerged from Renaissance Italy at about the same time and the two art 
forms had retained certain basic similarities as they evolved. The young 
Kaiser, however, shocked by the cynicism of Bismarck's foreign policy, 
had allowed the Russian treaty to lapse when he dropped the ageing pilot 
of Germany's imperial destiny after a row over domestic questions in 1890, 
Now Wilhelm at forty-three was back on the same easterly tack the Iron 


Chancellor had tried, maneuvering with the same deviousness, but not, un- 
fortunately, with the same prudence or dexterity. 

The Kaiser had already made a tentative and inconclusive move in this 
direction in the course of an earlier meeting with the Czar aboard the 

"I wish you would assume, from now on, the title of Admiral of the 
Pacific," he had said to Nicholas on that occasion, "I shall call myself 
Admiral of the Atlantic." Steaming away from the meeting the Kaiser had 
ordered the Hohenzollern to make the signal, "The Admiral of the Atlantic 
salutes the Admiral of the Pacific." 

Annoyance with his British cousin, Edward VII, had helped WHhelm's 
diplomatic evolution. The year before, Edward, already a virtual ally of 
France in the Entente Cordiale, had been the Kaiser's guest at the Kiel 
review and had displayed a lack of enthusiasm bordering on rudeness at 
the spectacle of Germany's nascent naval might. Since then the British 
press had been filled with insolent warnings to Germany not to challenge 
Britain's supremacy on the seas. To punish England for thus spurning the 
knightly hand of German friendship, and to neutralize French hostility, 
Wilhelm had finally come up with his super-Bismarckian brainwave. Egged 
on by his gray eminence Baron Holstein, a diplomatic spider who sat day 
and night in his obscure lair in the Wilhelmstrasse (the German Foreign 
Office) covering Europe with his endless webs of intrigue, the Kaiser 
had written the Czar around the end of 1 904 suggesting an alliance between 
their two empires as the best way to safeguard European peace. France, as 
Russia's ally, would virtually be obliged to join in, Wilhelm had pointed out 
to his cousin; the proposed Berlin-St. Petersburg axis would thus become 
in effect a new continental coalition against Britain, Russia's hereditary 
rival in Asia. 

The immediate reaction had been disappointing to Wilhelm. The Czar 
had shown the letter to his ministers; they had consulted the French allies. 
The project was quietly pigeonholed while a discreet snicker ran around 
the chancelleries of Europe. By My, however, the Kaiser felt that the 
changing European situation justified another try. The Russo-Japanese 
War, which had broken out in February 1904, was lost. The virtual annihi- 
lation of the main Russian fleet IB the Straits of Tsushima on May 27, 1905, 
had deprived the Czax of his last hope. Revolutionary unrest was mounting 
in Russia. Nicky would be looking for friends. 

Wilhelm accordingly proposed the joint yachting excursion in the Baltic, 
and when Nicholas accepted, ordered Biilow to dust off the draft treaty 
worked up six months earlier and send it to him (Holstein, its real author, 
for some reason, was not in on the secret this time). The document was 
wirelessed to the Hohenzollern and Wilhelm copied it in his own hand, 
incidentally altering the text at a critical point, without informing his Chan- 


cellor. Just before the meeting on July 24 the Kaiser retired to his cabin 
and placed himself in God's hands. 

"And at the end," Wilhelm later reported to Billow, "I also uttered the 
prayer of the Old Dessauer [Leopold Prince of Anhalt-Dessau] at Kessel- 
dorf , that if He did not wish to help me He should not help the other side 
either. Then I felt wonderfully strengthened . . . and decided within me 
'You will put it through, no matter what the cost'." 

Thus fortified in spirit, the Kaiser went aboard the Stella Polaris, wear- 
ing a German admiral's uniform, his famous spiked mustaches bristling 
martially, a manic glitter in his dark eyes. He was warmly embraced by 
Nicholas, dressed like a British yachtsman and looking, with his gentle blue 
eyes and neatly trimmed chestnut beard, astonishingly like his distant cousin 
the Prince of Wales, the future George V. The talks got off to a brilliant 
start. Overcome by emotion, the Czar's court chamberlain, old Count 
Fredericks, tearfully exclaimed, "At a moment when we are abandoned 
by the whole world, ay, despised, and not even a dog will take a bone from 
us, your Majesty has come as a true friend to comfort us and lift us up 

The first greetings had hardly been exchanged before Nicholas sponta- 
neously brought up the name of Edward VII, whom he described as "the 
greatest mischiefmaker and the most dangerous intriguer in the whole 

The Czarina was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who was also Wil- 
helm's grandmother and Nicholas himself was the nephew of Edward's 
consort, Queen Alexandra, but family ties had become strained during the 
current war by Britain's manifest sympathy with its Japanese allies, espe- 
cially since the previous October. At that time the Russian naval forces in 
the Baltic, running at night through the English Channel en route to their 
distant Pacific doom, had inadvertently shot up a British fishing fleet (and 
some of their own ships) in the fog off the Dogger Bank. The British Gov- 
ernment and public had not been amused by the tragi-comic incident, and 
a major crisis in relations with Russia had narrowly been averted. 

Wilhelm naturally sympathized with the Czar's feelings about Edward, 
and slyly added that the latter had "a passion for concluding a little agree- 

"Well," Nicholas shot back, "I can only say that he shall not get one 
from me, and never in my life against Germany or you, my word of honor 
on it," 

Nicholas then went on to complain about the way his French allies had 
let him down over the Dogger Bank affair and in closing the coast of Indo- 
china to the Russian fleet, at England's behest. Wilhelm rubbed salt into 
this wound, too, with what he thought was extreme cleverness. 

The day passed deliciously, and that evening the Kaiser was host at a gay 


little dinner party aboard the Hohenzollern for the Czar and his family. 
Nicholas seemed cheerful and relaxed; the famous charm that captivated 
everyone who had not had occasion to do business with him was radiating 
warmly. Wilhelm, himself, was a little tense, his mind seething with Machia- 
vellian plans for the morrow. The next morning, after another consultation 
in his cabin with God, the Kaiser again went aboard the Stella Polaris, 
where, at the end of an excellent lunch, the two blue-blooded amateurs, 
each as gullible in his own fashion as he was undependable, got down to 
the serious business of outwitting each other and double-crossing their re- 
spective allies. Somehow the theme of British perfidy and French unrelia- 
bility came up again. Wilhelm hinted that Edward was cooking up another 
of those "little agreements" of his with France, behind Russia's back. 

"That is too bad," the Czar answered, "what shall I do in this disagree- 
able situation?" 

"How would it be if we were to make a little agreement, too?" Wilhelm 

That reminded Nicholas that Wilhelm had sent him a draft along these 
lines a few months before, but unfortunately he had forgotten its details 
and had not thought to bring the text along with him on the yacht. The 
Kaiser quickly reassured his cousin. 

"I possess a copy," he said, "which, by an extraordinary chance, I hap- 
pen to have in my pocket." 

The incident would seem unbelievable if Wilhelm himself had not re- 
corded it in his subsequent report to Biilow. The scene that followed was 
even more fantastic* Here are the essentials of it related in the Kaiser's own 
inimitable prose: 

"The Czar caught me by the hand and drew me out of the saloon into 
what used to be his father's cabin, then he shut all the doors himself. 'Show 
it to me, please' and his dreamy eyes lit up. I drew the envelope from my 
pocket, unfolded the paper on Alexander's own writing table, right in front 
of the Empress-Mother's photograph ... and laid it before the Czar. He 
read it once, twice, thrice. I sent up a fervent prayer to the good God that 
He would be with us in this moment, and guide the young monarch aright. 

"There was a dead calm; only the gentlest murmur from the sea, and the 
sun shone bright and clear into the pleasant cabin, while right before my 
eyes lay the Hohenzollern in her dazzling whiteness, and the Imperial 
Standard fluttering high in the morning breeze. I was just reading there on 
its sable cross, the words Gott Hit Uns, when I heard the Czar's voice 
beside me say: 'That is quite excellent. I quite agree!' . . . My heart beat 
so hard that I could hear it; but I pulled myself together and said, quite 
casually, as it were: 'Should you like to sign it? It would be a very nice 
souvenir of our interview!* 


"He ran over the pages again. Then he said 'Yes, I will.' I flung back the 
cover of the ink well, handed him the pen, and he wrote with a firm hand, 
'Nicolas' and gave the pen to me. As I rose he clasped me in his arms, 
deeply moved, and said, C I thank God and I thank you' . . . tears of joy 
stood in my eyes to be sure drops of perspiration were trickling down my 
brow and my back and I thought, Frederick Wilhelm III, Queen Louisa, 
Grandpapa and Nicholas I must surely be near in that moment." 

To avoid disappointing this celestial audience, Wilhelm hastily reminded 
the Czar that documents of such import should be countersigned. One of 
the Kaiser's guests, a minor diplomat named von Tschirschky took care 
of this formality for the German side by writing his signature below that of 
his imperial master. For want of anyone more qualified the Czar sent for 
the doddering old man who was his Minister of the Navy, Admiral Birilow, 
and waved the folded document before his face. 

"Do you trust me, Alexis Alexeivitch?" he asked. "In that case, sign 
here. Here, under my signature." 

The admiral was so overwhelmed with the mysterious honor bestowed 
on him that he kissed the Kaiser's hand, exclaiming, "God bless you, Sire; 
you are Russia's guardian angel." 

The treaty of Bjorkoe, considered by Wilhelm as a landmark of modern 
history, provided for a defensive alliance between the two empires which 
was to come into effect as soon as peace had been concluded between 
Russia and Japan. The Kaiser had written in a stipulation restricting its 
scope, originally world-wide, to Europe, where each signatory was pledged 
to come to the aid of the other if it was attacked by a third party. Article 
Four laid down that after the treaty had come into force the Czar should 
invite France to join the pact. 

In a letter to the Czar immediately after his return from the Bjorkoe 
meeting which he characterized as "a cornerstone of European politics" 
and a "new leaf in the history of the world" Wilhelm outlined the role he 
envisaged for France in the new European order: 

"Marianne [France] must remember that she is wedded to you and that 
she is obliged to lie in bed with you and eventually to give a hug or a kiss 
now and then to me, but not to sneak into the bedroom of the ever-intrigu- 
ing touche-ti-tout on the Island [Edward]." 

Despite the proviso for French adherence, the agreement was a flagrant 
betrayal of the alliance signed with France fifteen years earlier to support 
her against Germany. Theoretically under the Bjorkoe treaty Russia could 
find herself at war with France if the latter was considered to have attacked 
Germany. Yet France and Russia were already bound by a secret military 
convention, whose existence and sinister import both came to light in 1914, 


whereby each partner was pledged to mobilize immediately and automati- 
cally if the other did. Somehow the Czar had failed to grasp this implication 
of the document his wily cousin had handed him to sign, though, as always 
with Nicholas II, it was hard to tell how much of his shiftiness was due to 
weakness of mind or character and how much to a kind of passive, feminine 
guile. In any case, the whole Bjorkoe affair horrified his ministers when he 
was finally obliged to let them in on the secret. "Monstrous! We shall be 
dishonored in the eyes of the French," was the immediate reaction of the 
professionals in St. Petersburg. 

The French themselves speedily realized that some sort of skulduggery 
was going on when their intelligence agents in Russia learned from a French 
chef employed by the imperial kitchens that on July 20 orders had been 
handed down to rush the gala table service, only used in entertaining 
royalty, to the Czar's yacht. A few days after Nicholas' return from Bjorkoe 
a French spy overheard old Admiral Birilow mutter, "I've signed some- 
thing, but the devil only knows what," and flashed the news to Paris, 
where it provoked extreme agitation. Finally, the Russian ambassador in 
Paris was instructed cautiously to sound out the French attitude toward 
the idea of a Franco-Russo-German defense pact, and the reaction being as 
expected, the Czar was wheedled by his ministers into writing the Kaiser to 
insist on an amendment that rendered the Bjorkoe agreement inoperative. 

Wilhelm had not fared much better in Berlin. Even Holstein castigated 
Bjorkoe as "operetta politics" and Billow flew into a rage because the 
Kaiser, after altering the original text of the draft treaty the limitation of 
its scope to Europe had signed it without consulting his Chancellor. Tears, 
tantrums and hysterics became daily occurrences at the imperial court. 
Bulow handed in his resignation; Wilhelm, refusing to accept it, whined 
and sniveled like a jilted schoolgirl. 

"To be treated like this by my best and most intimate of friends," the 
deflated would-be Bismarck wailed in a reproachful letter to his disgruntled 
Chancellor. "It has dealt me such a terrible blow that I feel quite broken 
and cannot but fear I may have a serious nervous attack. Telegraph 'All 
Right,' as soon as you get this, and then I shall know you are not going. 
For the day after I receive your resignation, the Emperor will no longer 
exist! Think of my poor wife and children." 

When the Czaf s embarrassed letters weaseling out of the Bjorkoe agree- 
ment reached the Kaiser, his overwrought nerves were subjected to a further 
strain. After ranting to his entourage about the "schoolboy ideologue in St. 
Petersburg," he took up his pen for a last solemn appeal to his defaulting 

"We have joined our hands together religiously," he wired Nicholas. "We 
have given our signatures before God, who has heard the promise we swore. 
I consider, therefore, that the treaty is still in force. If you desire some 


alterations of detail, propose them to me. But what is signed is signed. 
God is our witness." 

Nicholas did not reply. He never forgave Wilhelm for having duped him. 
Consciousness of the shabby role he himself had played, whether from 
weakness or from duplicity, probably added to his bitterness. The affection- 
ate relations which had existed between the two cousins for ten years 
were at an end, and the Anglo-Russian accord of 1907, completing the 
encirclement of Germany and the definitive crystallization of Europe into 
two hostile power-blocs, was in sight. Wilhelm had indeed succeeded in 
making history at Bjorkoe, though not in the way he intended. 

"To such a man was entrusted so great a part of the destinies of the 
world!" comments the Italian historian Luigi AlbertinL The remark applies 
with equal force to Nicholas. The two emperors, the most powerful rulers 
of contemporary Europe, undoubtedly bear a heavy share of responsibility 
for the catastrophe that eventually shattered both their empires and so much 
else besides. It would be alike misleading and unfair, however, to exaggerate 
the personal guilt of either Wilhelm II or Nicholas II, as rival propagandists 
did after the war. Each in his muddle-headed and disastrous fashion was 
trying to safeguard peace. 

It was the decaying European dynastic system itself, and the whole phi- 
losophy and machinery of foreign relations linked to it, that made war 
inevitable, thereby dooming the social order based on the system. The 
monarchies of pre-1914 Europe were rushing to their final extinction for 
the same reason that the dinosaurs of the Carboniferous Age had waddled 
to theirs. They had simply ceased to be adapted to their environment. 
Technological and sociological progress had rendered war too dangerous 
to be used as a means for achieving national objectives, but the rulers of 
nations had not yet realized ithalf a century later, we are just beginning 
to grasp the idea and their political imagination had not evolved tech- 
niques or concepts of diplomacy capable of settling major international 
problems without resort to war (neither has ours). 

"The political ideas which governed diplomatic intercourse such as bal- 
ance of power, spheres of interest, national prestige and sovereignty," re- 
marks the German historian Meissner, "provide a poor guidance through 
the fogs of mistrust The lights had gone out over Europe long before the 
conflict arose." 

The failure of Churchill's "princes and potentates"-and their agents-to 
deal satisfactorily with conflicts of interest between their states was dra- 
matically aggravated by maladjustments that generated explosive internal 
tensions. These maladjustments, arising from the conflict or discrepancy 
between traditional institutions and contemporary needs, were more or less 
acute in the various monarchies and empires. Sometimes they were mainly 
social and political, sometimes essentially administrative the sheer over- 


loading of the bureaucratic machinery, with resultant paralysis and con- 
fusion, was a big factor in the breakdown of the old order usually all 
three at once. Revolution or the threat of revolution helped push the de- 
caying European dynasties into war, and war, or the threat of war, touched 
off new revolutions in a deadly chain-reaction that is still continuing in our 
day. The ultimate aim of my book is to try to identify some of the most 
significant or dramatic stages of this apocalyptic process and to trace their 
imbrications. A logical starting place is the abortive revolution of 1905 in 
Russia, which, as we have seen, was one of the factors that caused the 
Czar to accept the unfortunate meeting with Wilhelm at Bjorkoe. 


The Year of the Red Cock 

the Eastern Orthodox Church, which the Viking 
merchant-princes of early Russia imported from Byzan- 
tium (Constantinople), the Epiphany, January 6, is a specially solemn 
feast, a graver and more hieratic Christmas. In St. Petersburg, before the 
Revolution, the day was celebrated with Byzantine splendor, in a typically 
Byzantine communion of the temporal and the spiritual authority. The 
main public ceremony, the Blessing of the Waters, commemorating Christ's 
baptism in the Jordan, was a colorful and moving rite. Beneath the dull 
ochre walls of the Winter Palace, the Czar's rarely used official residence, 
a brightly decorated tent and a platform were set up on the frozen Neva, 
the deep, slow-moving river, wide as an arm of the sea, on whose marshy 
banks Peter the Great had chosen to build his monstrous and lovely capital. 
There, on the snowy waste, against the fabulous pink granite embankment 
that for mile after mile holds the Neva in its bed, under the leaden sky of 
the northern midwinter, the high priesthood of the Russian Orthodox 
Church and the Imperial Household assembled, forming a barbaric tapestry 
of silk brocade and fur and scarlet cloth. A hole was cut in the ice. The 
Metropolitan (the Orthodox equivalent of Archbishop) blessed a cross. 
Then, in a gesture of ancient Christian symbolism, with overtones of pagan 
exorcism, he dropped it into the black and gurgling water. On January 6, 
1905 (by the old calendar used in Russia until 1918 and thirteen days 
behind ours) in the presence of the Czar, the traditional ceremony took 
place with its usual brilliance, despite the gloomy news from the Far East 
(Port Arthur had fallen to the Japanese only a short time before). It 
ended, however, on an unexpected note of drama. Here is the account of 
an eyewitness with a flair for lively reporting, a young tourist from the 


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West, Dr. Leon Weber-Bauler, the Russian-born son of an emigre woman 

"The crowd was kept at a distance; it was glum and silent," Weber- 
Bauler, who after the war became a well-known figure in Geneva medical 
and intellectual circles, records in his autobiography. He watched from a 
bridge. "Bells rang to announce the benediction, and suddenly there was 
the detonation of a cannon from the esplanade of the fortress of Peter and 
Paul across the river. The smoke of the discharge rose in a spherical cloud. 
The regulation salvo was beginning. But, to our amazement, a similar 
detonation had resounded above the imperial platform. The gun had been 
loaded with shrapnel and the shell had burst over the imperial party and 

"A gunner . . . had loaded the gun with shrapnel instead of with a 
blank cartridge and had fired on the Czar and his clergy with a piece 
which had been laid beforehand." The Czar was unhurt. As they removed 
the dead other officials fled. "The Czar betrayed no fear. Til keep this 
as a souvenir,' he was reported as saying, as he pocketed a shrapnel bullet 
which had recoiled from the granite of the quay and had fallen at his feet." 

The final anecdote may be apocryphal. If Nicholas II did pick up that 
pellet, it was a souvenir of something more than centuries' old guerrilla 
warfare between the Russian autocracy and its oppressed subjects. Though 
neither the Czar nor the young visitor from Geneva realized it, the shell 
fired at the imperial platform during the Blessing of the Waters was the 
opening gun in the desultory, confused but bloody series of uprisings com- 
monly called the Russian Revolution of 1905, a dress rehearsal for the one 
that brought down the dynasty twelve years later. It was to break out in 
unmistakable and large-scale violence only three days after the abortive 
plot against the Czar. To understand its causes and to assess its considerable 
role in preparing the general European upheaval, let us take a closer look 
at the curious, tragic personality of the last Romanov emperor, at his 
family background and at the state of Russia in the eleventh year of his 

"In the house of the Romanovs, as in that of the Atrides," notes the 
Russian writer Merejkovsky, commenting on the 1905 revolution, "a mys- 
terious curse descends from generation to generation. Murder and adultery, 
blood and mud, 'the fifth act of a tragedy played in a brothel.' Peter I 
kills his son; Alexander I kills his father; Catherine II kills her husband. 
And besides these great and famous victims, there are the mean, unknown 
and unhappy abortions of the autocracy, such as Ivan Antonovitch, suffo- 
cated like mice in dark corners, in the cells of the Schlusselburg. The 
block, the rope, and poison these are the true emblems of the Russian 


Nicholas II never murdered anyoneexcept some thousands of his sub- 
jects in the line of duty and his private life, at least to the non-Freudian 
eye, was free from any unwholesome Aegean taint He was a dutiful son, a 
devoted, not to say doting husband, a model father, and a conscientious 
monarch. Save for a brief early fling with the famous ballerina Ksesinskaya 
the height of conventionality for a royal prince in those times Nicholas 
was a paragon of Victorian respectability. He had a dull, airless mind, 
shielded by antimacassars of inherited prejudice from all contact with 
social or political reality. An autocrat by fanatic conviction, in all his 
personal attributes he was bourgeois to the marrow. Yet Merejkovsky's in- 
vocation of the antique curse is appropriate and prophetic in commenc- 
ing the story of Nicholas' reign, for the last Russian emperor, despite his 
homely, decent, rather stuffy ways, his mild temperament, and his gentle 
manner, was a true Romanov, heir to some of the most implacably tragic 
despots that history has known, and in the end, with a kind of macabre 
dignity that ran in tie family, he died a Romanov death in a blood-spattered 

The founder of the dynasty, Michael Romanov, the scion of a noble 
family that had distinguished itself in the wars against the Poles, acceded 
painlessly to the vacant, disputed throne at the age of fifteen in 1613, 
thanks to a general longing for order, and to a surge of patriotic feeling 
in reaction to foreign invasion after the twenty-nine-year 'Time of Troubles* 
that followed the death of Ivan the Terrible. Almost immediately, however, 
Michael had to use ruthless force to crush new peasant or Cossack re- 
bellions that threatened to plunge the country back into anarchy. So did 
his colorless successors, Alexis, Fedor II, and Ivan. In the process they 
reanimated the decaying institution of serfdom, formalized it, made it he- 
reditary, and gave the gentry increased authority over their peasants. Thus, 
at the moment when Western Europe was finally emerging, in a social 
sense, from the Middle Ages, Russia set the clock back to the hours of 
darkness. It was a regressive pattern that one encounters again and again 
in the story of the Romanovs and in that of modern Russia. 

Michael Romanov's grandson, Peter the Great (1682-1725), estab- 
lished or reinforced some other typical Russian patterns. A giant of a man, 
both literally and figuratively, Peter completed the structure of the cen- 
tralized, bureaucratic autocracy whose foundations Ivan the Terrible had 
laid more than a century earlier. He turned Russia into a vast military 
barracks and transformed the aristocracy into his officer caste. He dragged 
Russia by the hair out of the Eastern night into the concert of modern 
Europe. The divorce between technical and political progress that has 
plagued Russia ever since dates from Peter the Great. With his own hand 
he shaved off the beards of his chief lieutenants; beards were un-European 


and un-modern. So was Moscow, the cradle of the Russian monarchy and 
state; Peter determined to build himself a new capital on the recently con- 
quered Baltic shore, facing west toward the Europe whose technology and 
culture he admired so intemperately. The marsh at the mouth of the Neva 
seemed a strategically suitable place, and there, using Italian architects 
and forced native labor, he built St. Petersburg. Thousands of laborers 
died of pestilence or accident in the building, not for the last time in Rus- 
sian history. The city became Peter's monument, figuratively dominated by 
Etienne Falconet's huge equestrian statue of its founder in the great square 
of St. Isaak, the "Bronze Horseman," celebrated in one of Pushkin's most 
famous poems. To the Russian masses, St. Petersburg was from the first 
an alien capital; the psychological fissure that Peter's ruthless modernizing 
had opened between the people and the regime grew wider rather than 
narrower during the reigns of his successors* 

More than any other individual in his country's history, Peter created 
expansionist Russian nationalism and shaped its fundamental strategic doc- 
trines, Russia had already been expanding eastward from the Moscovite 
nucleus for several centuries. Peter actively encouraged this historic trend, 
sending explorers as far as the coast of the Bering Sea. To the south and 
southeast he likewise waged vigorously the already traditional struggle with 
the Turkish Empire for warm-water ports, and for the liberation of the 
Christian Slav populations of southeast Europe, who still lay under the 
heavy Turkish yoke. Implicit in Peter's southern strategy was the dream, 
that was to haunt the Russian imagination for the next two centuries, of 
controlling the Dardanelles and hoisting the two-headed Romanov eagle 
above freed Constantinople, the holy cradle of Russia's civilization. Peter 
was no dreamer, however, and he concentrated his volcanic energies 
chiefly in a westerly drive whose objectives were strictly practical. In a long, 
stubborn war, Peter drove the Swedes out of the Continent, occupied the 
Eastern Baltic coast and part of Finland, installed an allied, almost puppet, 
ruler on the throne of Poland, and thus in a few years turned Russia into 
a major European power. 

Throughout his reign Peter had to cope with the usual Cossack and 
peasant uprisings, which he suppressed without mercy, and with various 
military or aristocratic conspiracies which he scotched as ruthlessly. His 
son and presumptive heir, Alexis, was involved in one of these plots. 
Peter lured the young Czarevitch back to Russia after he had fled abroad, 
gave him a public pardon, then as the full extent of his treachery became 
known, had him sentenced to death and executed. Peter himself had gained 
the throne with the help of a military coup that deposed his half-sister, 
Sophia, and he inadvertently condemned Russia to more than a century of 
palace revolutions and contested successions by laying down the principle 
that the Emperor had the right to choose his successor, as in ancient Rome. 


Three of Peter's descendants lost their lives in the incessant putschs or 
conspiracies generated by his fatal dynastic code. One, Peter III, was assas- 
sinated by a clique of nobles who installed on the throne his German-born 
wife, Catherine, known to history as Catherine II or Catherine the Great 
(1762-1796). Catherine's reign, in many respects a model of eighteenth- 
century enlightenment also of eighteenth-century libertinage was troubled 
by unusually numerous and grave plots and revolts. She bequeathed new 
subjects of discontent to her successors by energetically pursuing the ex- 
pansionist policy of Peter the Great; the first partition of Poland between 
Russia and the rising Hohenzollern power in Prussia under Frederick the 
Great was one of its tainted fruits. 

Catherine's successor, Paul I (1796-1801), was her son; there was some 
understandable uncertainty as to who his father was, but he looked upon 
himself as the rightful heir to the throne and felt that Catherine had usurped 
it-which she undoubtedly had. Paul hated his mother as a usurper, de- 
spised her as an adulteress, probably suspected her of being a murderess, 
and disapproved of her as an enlightened despot. Paul himself was merely a 
pathological one. It was in the convulsed attitude of a tyrant at bay that 
Paul confronted the two great problems of his reign: that of the French 
Revolution, which broke out in the last years of Catherine's life; and that 
of his relationship with his eldest son Alexander. 

A palace revolution staged in 1801 by a group of aristocratic young 
liberals, personal and ideological comrades of Alexander, ended Paul's 
career as a national and family despot. Alexander had naturally stipulated 
that his father's life be spared, but he does not seem to have stipulated 
hard enough. There was a scuffle in the Czar's bedroom and one of the 
conspirators strangled him. A not-wholly innocent Oedipus succeeded a 
frustrated Hamlet. 

With Paul's tragic death, the curse of the Romanovs spent itself, in the 
sense that from then on accession to the throne, with one partial exception, 
took place in an orderly and dignified way; son no longer raised hand 
against father, or father against son. (Paul himself enhanced the legitimacy 
of the crown by revoking the disastrous code of Peter the Great and sub- 
stituting a clear law of succession based on primogeniture.) In a deeper 
sense, however, the curse was merely transposed. The Romanovs became 
a proper nineteenth-century royal family, like most of the others in Europe, 
but the old aberrant pattern of doom kept recurring throughout the next 
five reigns in the relationship between monarch and subjects. As the result 
of living for nearly two centuries in an atmosphere of Elizabethan or an- 
cient Greek tragedy, the political outlook of the dynasty congealed into a 
kind of hereditary and officialized paranoia that eventually filtered into the 
administrative bloodstream of the state itself so intimately that two revolu- 
tions have not yet completely eliminated it. 


Alexander I (1801-1825), after beginning his reign in a halo of liberal- 
ism and emerging from the Napoleonic Wars as the most idealistic of Eu- 
ropean sovereigns the Holy Alliance as originally conceived by Alexander 
was a "monarchs' League of Nations," in the words of Sir Bernard Pares 
turned into the same kind of blind reactionary autocrat that his father 
had been (no doubt the chastisement of the Furies) and died just in time 
to escape some revolutionary conspirator's scarf or dagger. 

Nicholas I (1825-1855), his younger brother and successor, was both a 
pettier and a harsher tyrant he once tried to tell Pushkin how to write 
verse and his reign was one of the bleakest periods in modern Russian 
history. At its outset he had to crush a revolt of the Guard regiments, 
whose aristocratic officers, in accordance with the tradition dating back to 
the beginnings of the dynasty, had been plotting against Alexander and 
wanted to put another brother, Constantino, on the throne despite the 
latter's formal renunciation of his rights. This so-called Decembrist uprising 
it took place on December 26, 1825 was the last palace revolt in Russian 
history, but it marks a new and no less fatal pattern of disorder, for to a 
considerable degree it launched the tradition of revolutionary conspiracy 
in Russia. A number of leaders and sympathizers were liberals or even 
republicans inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, and one of its 
avowed objectives was a Constitution for Russia. 

The second Alexander (1855-1881), was a new kind of Romanov. He 
was devoted to his father and loyal to Nicholas' autocratic principles. Un- 
like his predecessor, however, he was intelligent. Sir Bernard Pares, the Brit- 
ish historian of modem Russia, describes him as an "honest Conservative, 
forced by the overwhelming logic of facts to put in the forefront of his 
program the liberation of the serfs." Serfdom was the shame of Russia, the 
great national canker and the number one social problem of the age. No 
reform was more urgently needed, or more likely to transform the whole 
social climate in Russia if drastically carried through* Alexander's reform 
was drastic, and he carried it through. It not only emancipated the serfs 
who up to then had been bound to the soil and considered virtually as the 
chattel of their masters, but it gave them ownership of half the land they 
had been cultivating in return for payments to the state staggered over a 
period of forty-nine years. 

The emancipation legislation had some injudicious features. Instead of 
giving each peasant a plot of his own, it turned the land over to the collec- 
tive ownership of the village communities, thus as Pares remarks, basing 
the Russian autocracy not on individualist but on collectivist principles. 
This was to have grave consequences in the future, but in the context of 
the day it was hardly reactionary, and the reform itself was anything but a 
timid one. 

During the twenty-six years of Alexander's reign, Russia seemed to be 


rapidly closing the gap that still separated her from the advanced societies 
of the West. The wave of repression that had swept over Western Europe 
after the revolutionary disturbances of 1848 had not yet entirely receded, 
but in Russia, liberalism, after nearly half a century of Arctic night was 
once more in bud. 

Then the curse of the Romanovs struck again. Yielding to its congenital 
suspicion and the ingrained instinct to repress, the autocracy began to 
crack down with increasing severity on the Narodniki (literally men of the 
people) a small body of idealistic intellectuals, usually university students, 
both male and female, who fervently believed in "going to the people," that 
is, living among the peasants, sharing their harsh conditions of life, helping 
to raise them up and make them conscious of their human rights. It was a 
very Russian movement, genuinely noble, a little impractical, potentially 
important. Many of the Narodniki were merely earnest social reformers; 
some were harmless Utopian-socialist dreamers; a few were determined 
revolutionary agitators. Even among the revolutionaries a number disap- 
proved of systematic violence, but there was a hard core of fanatics whom 
the knouts and torture chambers of the Czar's police, the Arctic prison 
camp and the Siberian salt mine had helped turn into political psychopaths. 
The great novelist Ivan Turgenev had coined the name "Nihilists," for 
them; their models or intellectual masters were the venerable anarchist 
writer and apostle of terrorism, Mikhail Bakunin, Serge Nechayev, the 
monstrous prototype of the conscienceless revolutionary in Dostoyevsky's 
The Possessed, and Peter Tkachev, the theoretician of revolution through 
professionally organized conspiracy, to whom Lenin, among others, owed 
a great intellectual debt. (Tkachev once recommended that every Russian 
over the age of twenty-five be put to death as incapable of moving with the 

With the help of the imperial police, whose persecution of the milder 
type of revolutionary agitators had alienated liberal opinion, the influence 
of the "Nihilists" grew in one wing of the Narodnik movement. The ex- 
tremists, supported by 6migre groups, formed a conspiratorial society, the 
Will of the People, dedicated to the cult of the bomb. It became the nucleus 
from which the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, one of the two great revolu- 
tionary groups in twentieth-century Russia, eventually sprang up. In the 
reign of Alexander II, the Will of the People had only a few hundred mem- 
bers, but they were armed, and trained in conspiracy and organized in 
cells, and that was enough to kill hope. Two attempts to assassinate the 
Czar failed. The third one, on March 13, 1881, succeeded just after Alex- 
ander had signed a decree proclaiming an embryonic '""o'Mitution, aimed 
at reassuring the liberals. A terrorist threw a bomb at the Czar's carriage 
as he was driving through the streets of St. Petersburg following a military 
review. He got out to look after some Cossacks of his suite who had been 


wounded. A second assassin, a young Pole, shouting "It's too early to thank 
God," threw another bomb. Alexander's legs were shattered, his face muti- 
lated and his belly torn open. "Home to the Palace, to die there," he 
mumbled. His family, including his grandson Nicholas, the future Nicholas 
n, then twelve years old and dressed in a sailor suit, assembled in time to 
see his last moments. The Czar's murder plunged Russia back into the dark 
night of reaction. It grew steadily darker under the reign of his son Alex- 
ander in (1881-1894), whose censor forbade the newspapers even to 
print the word "Constitution." Almost as tall and as muscular as his remote 
ancestor, Peter the Great (he wore an impressive beard though), Alexander 
TTT resembled the hangmen Czars Nicholas I and Paul I in his political 
outlook. He abrogated or emasculated many of his father's reforms and 
took savage, sweeping revenge on the revolutionaries. In 1887 a twenty- 
year old student-terrorist took part in a plot organized by the Will of the 
People to kill the Czar on the anniversary of Alexander II's assassination, 
was arrested and condemned to death. His mother applied for permission 
to visit him in prison. 

"I thtnlc ft would be advisable to allow her to visit her son," the Czar 
scribbled on the margin of the letter that the despairing woman had sent 
him, "so that she might see for herself what kind of person this precious 
son of hers is." 

Explaining his act or rather his intended act at his trial, the student 
said: "Under a system which permits no freedom of expression and crushes 
every attempt to work for their [the people's] welfare and enlightenment 
by legal means, the only instrument that remains is terror." 

The young man was hanged, with four of his fellow conspirators in the 
courtyard of the Schlusselberg fortress on the morning of May 20, 1887. 
His name was Alexander Ulyanov and he had a seventeen-year old brother, 
Vladimir, who later became a conspirator himself and took the pen name 
Nikolai Lenin. (Another subsequently famous personage involved in the 
case of Alexander Ulyanov was Jozef Pilsudski, the future liberator of 
Poland, who was arrested as an accomplice in the plot against the Czar but 
got off with a prison term.) It was a brutal psychological shock for the 
adolescent Lenin to learn that his loved and admired older brother had 
died like a criminal and for a crime he had merely planned to commit 
with a black hood over his head and his neck broken by a hangman's 
noose. It had also been a brutal psychological shock for the young Alexan- 
der HI when the father whom he loved and admired had been carried back 
into his palace, a blood-soaked, smoke-blackened pulp. The two men re- 
acted in the same way to the same tragic experience. Neither would ever 
after show mercy to the Enemy (and the Enemy was a dangerously indefi- 
nite abstraction called Revolution, or the Autocracy, or even the bour- 
geosie). Each cherished the martyr's memory but turned his back on the 


martyr's example. Alexander rejected his father's policy of reform. Lenin 
repudiated the basically Narodnik revolutionary idealism of his brother, 
along with the strategy of terrorism, in favor of a more "scientific" and 
pitiless doctrine of revolution ideologically grounded in the economic theo- 
ries of Karl Marx. 

This Russian version of Marxian Social Democracy which in France 
engendered the democratic and humanitarian socialism of Jean Jaur&s 
was oriented toward the industrial workers of the big cities rather than 
toward the miserable and restive peasantry that was the chief concern of 
the traditional Russian revolutionaries, the Narodniki, and their successors, 
the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Russia, right up to the revolution, was pri- 
marily an agricultural nation, so the Marxist Social Democrats played only 
a secondary role in the revolutionary movement there before the war. In- 
dustrialization however was progressing by giant leaps in late nineteenth- 
and early twentieth-century Russia and Lenin's hour would eventually 

The reign of Alexander lH offers a fascinating case study in the early 
pathology of diseased social or political orders. Attacked by tie revolution- 
ary virus, the regime secretes antibodies of excessive repression that only 
render it more virulent. The result is Leninism that is, the revolutionary 
impulse and doctrine which will be known as Leninism after further human 
or historic ordeals have enhanced its deadliness. At the same time the ailing 
system generates counterrevolutionary ideologies that attack its own nerve 
centers, distorting its vision, disrupting its capacity for co-ordinated action, 
leaving it incompetent to ward off its enemies. Perhaps the chief agent of 
this autointoxication in the case of Russia was a pedantic, bigoted, ascetic- 
looking intellectual named Konstantin Pobedonostsev, whose dry fanaticism 
somewhat resembled Lenin's. He was the gray eminence a very black one 
of Alexander's whole reign, and drafted most of the manifestoes or de- 
crees promulgated in the name of the Czar. Pobedonostsev's influence was 
most baneful, however, in his role as tutor to the Czarevitch, Nicholas, 
and later as his adviser when Nicholas mounted the throne on Alexander's 
death (from natural causes) in 1894. 

Nicholas n was two years older than Lenin. He was born on May 18, 
1868. The heir to nearly three centuries of imperial grandeur, tragedy, and 
crime had few of the Romanov chromosomes in his cells in view of the in- 
discretions of Catherine II it is not certain that he had any at all and very 
little real Russian blood flowed in his veins. The family had been strongly 
Germanized since before Catherine's day, and Nicholas' own mother, Maria 
Fedorovna, was a Danish princess, the sister of England's Queen Alexan- 
dra. He had the cosmopolitan bringing-up, the cultural equivalent of grand- 
hotel cookery, that was standard for European royalty at the time, with the 


English element probably predominant, thanks to Victoria. Yet no Czar 
since Peter the Great had such an essentially Russian soul. Beneath the 
manners and morals of an English country gentleman, Nicholas possessed 
in many respects the character that centuries of living under serfdom and 
tyranny had bred in the Russian muzhik. He was warmhearted, stubborn, 
brave, sentimental, vague, patient (his birthday was the feast of Job), 
dreamy, superstitiously pious (or piously superstitious), fatalistic ("What- 
ever I try, nothing succeeds") , moody, ineffectual, and mistrustful. Nicholas 
consistently behaved with the meek shiftiness of one of his father's peasants. 
This was hardly surprising; peasant and Czarevitch had been born under 
the same tyranny and the latter, during his formative years, lived closer to 
the tyrant. 

Though a stern disciplinarian, Alexander HI does not appear to have 
treated his son harshly, by Victorian standards, but he was so big and so 
virile, so self-confident and strong-willed and imperious that the frail, small, 
gentle Nicholas (who was advised to make his public appearances on 
horseback, whenever possible, in order to offset his unimposing physique) 
could not help but feel crushed by him. The shock of seeing his grandfather 
die from a terrorist's bomb no doubt also had a traumatic impact on his 
emotions. Nicholas was affable in conversation and disliked heated dis- 
cussion or frank disagreement. He almost invariably told others what he 
thought they wanted to hear and would not tolerate around his person 
counselors, however obsequious, who told him anything except what he 
himself wanted to hear. 

". . . the minister who had been received with a flattering show of kind- 
ness," says Richard Charques in his Twilight of Imperial Russia, "learned 
from an imperial note sent by courier next morning that he had been dis- 
missedor worse still, discovered from the morning's newspaper that he 
had tendered his resignation." 

Unfortunately for the monarchy in Russia, and for the peace of Europe, 
Nicholas was not only an inept autocrat but a systematically deluded one. 
A number of influences contributed to bemusing the Emperor's mind. The 
most important one was that of his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, born Prin- 
cess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, one of the minor German princely houses, 
and brought up, at least in part, in Kensington Palace by her grandmother 
Queen Victoria. Alexandra had light chestnut hair, dark blue eyes, firm, 
classic features that would have made her face beautiful in a regal way if 
her expression had not been so cold. She held herself with Junoesque grace 
and walked with the stiff, awkward gait of a cow. Though in a superficial 
sense Alexandra was the Marie Antoinette of the Russian revolution, she 
had little in common with the tragic mistress of the Versailles dolls' house. 
She had earnestness, character, deep religious and social ideals, a stem 
sense of duty and all were fatal. Her relationship with Nicholas was as 


paradoxical as her personality. As we shall see later, there was some un- 
healthy, almost monstrous element in it; yet there was also a deep, intensely 
romantic attachment that gave both of them a dignity and a dedication of 
the heart they never lost. It is a queer unsettling sort of story, half Hans 
Christian Andersen and half Tennessee Williams. 

They met in St. Petersburg, at the wedding of Alexandra's sister, Eliza- 
beth, to the Grand Duke Sergius, a brother of Alexander HI. Alexandra 
or Alix was twelve at the time, Nicholas sixteen, and neither ever for- 
got the occasion, or the other's image. Nicholas apparently decided then 
and there that he would marry his shy, awkward English cousin he thought 
of her as English when he grew up. There were serious obstacles to the 
match when the time came to talk about it. Both Alexander in, the family 
and national autocrat and Nicholas* mother, whom he adored, strongly 
disapproved of his choice. Alix, though she had loved Nicholas from the 
first, disapproved no less strongly of her own heart's choice; she considered 
Nicholas as a dissipated young waster with no serious goal in life. Both her 
Victorian bringing up and the kind of idealistic and romantic fiction that 
nourished her adolescent emotions (even as a grown woman she remained 
incorrigibly addicted to the vapidly respectable novels of Marie Corelli) 
condemned such a frivolous union, undedicated by any noble or worthy 
cause. Moreover, to marry Nicholas she would have to give up the Lu- 
theran church hi which she had grown up, and become converted to the 
Greek Orthodox faith; priggishness and real conviction combined to make 
the sacrifice or the betrayal seem unthinkable to her. "Religion isn't a 
pair of gloves to pull on and off," she once smugly told her sister Elizabeth, 
who had joined the Greek Church after marrying the Romanov Grand 

It was one of love's miracles that the normally weak-willed and fatalistic 
Nicholas somehow developed the doggedness and the drive that enabled 
him to triumph over all these difficulties. In 1892 Nicholas was then 
twenty-four and Alix twenty he outfaced his parents, left for Germany- 
disregarding a goodbye-forever letter he had received from Alix and there 
persuaded her to reverse her decision. E. M. Almedingen, one of the few 
writers ever to attempt a sympathetic biography of one of history's least 
sympathetic victims (The Empress Alexandra) offers an explanation for 
the surrender which is psychologically plausible and which is expressed in 
the kind of language that Alexandra herself might well have used. "She 
accepted him in the end," says Miss Almedingen, "because it came to her 
that she and she alone could make him envisage duty from the only pos- 
sible point of view; that her passion for him was strong enough to evoke 
qualities that she considered dormant; that in marrying him she would be 
able to guide and counsel; and that in their joint happiness they would 
fulfill their high duty to the utmost. And as she reflected on these points, 


she came to see that she would not violate her conscience in any particular 
. . . Therein lay God's will for her." 

If Nicholas had any qualms about the theological and other considera- 
tions that underlay ALix's "Yes," or any apprehensions about the rather 
strenuous plans for making him over that she certainly must have hinted to 
him, there is no indication of it in his diary. "A heavenly, unforgettable 
day," Nicholas wrote with uncomplicated if unoriginal rapture of his be- 
trothal to Alix. "In a dream all day long." 

In a sense Nicholas never woke up from that dream, nor did Alexandra. 
They were married in 1894, shortly after Nicholas mounted the throne. 
"With every day that passes I bless the Lord and thank Him from the 
depths of my soul for the happiness He bestowed on me," Nicholas wrote 
in his diary soon after the wedding. "Never could I believe there could be 
such happiness in the world, such a feeling of unity between two mortal 
beings," Alexandra added two days later. While they were still engaged she 
had started reading her fiance's diary so that there could be no "reserva- 
tions" between them and occasionally making entries in it in her own 
handwriting. The love duet recorded by the Czar's diary and in the Cza- 
rina's letters to him continued throughout the twenty-three years of their 
married life, punctuated from time to time by a nursery chorus as they 
gradually acquired four daughters and a son, the semi-invalid Alexis, whose 
inherited hemophilia cast the only shadow albeit a deep one upon the 
imperial couple's domestic bliss. 

As a young bachelor Nicholas had been fun-loving and sociable, much 
given to dancing, card games, and gambling or roistering with his male 
friends. Marriage soon changed him. The passionate communion of souls 
with Alexandra over the years turned into an increasingly marmot-like 
togetherness of husband and wife and children in a kind of ex-urban snug- 
gery: the royal palace at Gatchina, outside the capital, or the larger one at 
Tsarskoe Selo, that had been Catherine the Great's Versailles. Alexandra 
somehow contrived to make their private quarters in the palace look like 
a middle-class English honeymooner's cottage, with bamboo furniture and 
beaded gewgaws. Nicholas visited his capital as little as possible; all his 
ofl-duty hours revolved around the family dining room to which official 
guests were rarely invited and where official business was taboo-the nursery 
and his wife's boudoir. His evenings were usually spent reading particu- 
larly from English novels to Alexandra, who hated St. Petersburg society. 
She considered it vapid, snobbish, and immoral, which it probably was* 
Formal entertaining was reduced to a strict minimum during the whole 
reign of Nicholas II, and Alexandra cared just as little for small informal 
dinners or luncheon parties. Though she constantly preached the stern code 
of autocratic duty to her easygoing husband, she appeared to resent every- 
thing, including the accepted social duties of the state, that distracted him 


even momentarily from his f amily. Thus, Alexandra, though she may have 
deepened and improved Nicholas' moral character, encouraged the tend- 
ency to isolate himself from his subjects that was one of his deadly failings 
as a ruler. 

Paradoxically, however, Alexandra's greatest contribution to the fall of 
the Romanov dynasty stemmed less from her efforts to remodel her hus- 
band's character, than from her equally strenuous efforts to refashion her 
own. In trying to adapt herself to her husband's country and culture she 
went native with a naive violence that would have seemed ludicrous if it 
had not proved so fatal. In exchanging her sober Lutheran piety for the 
Eastern splendors of the Orthodox Church she simultaneously embraced 
all the mystic excesses, the superstition and the religious quackery to which 
the Slav soul was prey. In submerging the English liberalism which had 
once scandalized her husband's family, she not only accepted the doctrine 
of autocracy but espoused it with a fanatical ardor that seemed a bit medie- 
val, even by Russian standards. In Trotsky's words "she adopted with a 
kind of cold fury all the traditions and nuances of Russian medievalism, 
the most meager and crude of all medievalisms, in that very period when 
the people were making mighty efforts to free themselves from it." In so 
doing Alexandra re-enforced in her husband's mind the powerful and de- 
lusive influence already exercised on it by his father's old counselor, 

Nicholas' tutor he had also been the tutor of Alexander HI was not 
merely a fanatical reactionary, but a philosopher of reaction. Born in 1827, 
he spent his life reacting against the wrong revolution the French one of 
1789. His enemies were rationalism, progress, liberalism, personal liberties, 
constitutions, parliamentary institutions and, above all, popular sover- 
eignty, "the erroneous principle that ... all power comes from the people." 
He had failed to notice, or at least to understand, the increasing emphasis 
on scientific socialism rather than human rights in the Russian revolution- 
ary movement, the steady rise of the Nihilists and the Leninists-to-be, with 
their cold pessimism, so like his own, and their evident bent toward dicta- 
torship, only a little less openly expressed than his. 

It was Pobedonostsev who drafted Nicholas' very first policy statement 
just after his accession, a sternly worded rebuke in reply to a message of 
congratulation from a zemstvo (one of the provincial assemblies estab- 
lished by the reforms of Alexander II) that had ventured to include a 
veiled criticism of police oppression and a timid plea for greater participa- 
tion of the zemstvos in public affairs. "Senseless dreams/' retorted Pobe- 
donostsev, over the signature of Nicholas, whose statement added that the 
Czar would "firmly and unflinchingly" uphold the principle of autocracy. 

Pobedonostsev's doctrine of autocracy, which the young Nicholas had 
uncritically made his own, was grounded in religious mysticism. Its essence, 


as one of Pobedonostsev's disciples explained to the French ambassador, 
Maurice Paleologue, was that: 

"The Czar is the anointed of the Lord, sent by God to be the supreme 
guardian of the Church and the all-powerful ruler of the empire. ... As 
he receives his power from God, it is to God alone that he must account 
for it. ... Constitutional liberalism is a heresy as well as a stupid 

In twentieth-century Russia this neo-Byzantine dogma could not fail to 
push the liberals into a potentially fatal collusion with the radicals of the 
extreme left. As early as January 1904, a group of representative zemstvo 
liberals founded a nation-wide underground Union of Liberation that 
marks an ominous milestone in the history of the monarchy. Even the 
Western-educated supporters of the autocracy technicians, administrators, 
businessmen who might have welcomed rationalizations of absolutism 
based on less anachronistic principles were alienated or discouraged. 

Nicholas II, with Alexandra's encouragement, pushed his old tutor's 
ideas to suicidal extremes by the literalness with which he conceived his 
rights and his duties as an autocrat. Pobedonostsev had once complained 
that Romanov court etiquette prevented him from ever quizzing his pupil, 
but he need not have worried; Nicholas' subsequent behavior showed that 
he had done his homework all too faithfully. As Czar, Nicholas not only 
based state policy on the royal whim, but would hardly trust anyone but 
himself to carry it out. Delegating authority, he felt, undermined the auto- 
cratic principle. He was jealous of officials who were too successful in 
carrying out his own orders. He tried to run his sprawling twentieth- 
century empire, with its top-heavy bureaucracy, its chaotically expanding 
industry and its complex foreign relations, the way Peter the Great had 
run seventeenth-century Russia. Nicholas, refusing the help of a private 
secretary, regularly insisted on himself sealing the envelopes into which he 
sent out official documents; such work-habits had a good deal to do with 
the chronic bureaucratic anarchy or paralysis that was an important factor 
in the ultimate collapse of the Romanov dynasty. 

Other facets of the political mystique that Pobedonostsev instilled into 
the mind and policies of Nicholas II were hardly less deadly in their ulti- 
mate effects. One was the Great-Russian racism implicit in his version of 
Slavophil nationalism. He and Nicholas both looked on the dominant na- 
tive stock of European Russia as the master race of the empire, and re- 
garded its other races, even when they were of pure Slavic origin, as inferior, 
especially when they did not belong to the Orthodox faith. The racism was 
not openly admitted, but the bigotry was quite official; there were attempts 
at forced conversion of Catholics in Poland, of Protestants in Finland, of 
the schismatic sect known as "Old Believers" in Siberia, of Moslems in 
Central Asia. Jews were at the bottom of the ladder and anti-Semitism 


was a formal State policy, though Jews could escape official persecution 
by joining the Orthodox Church. Nicholas II tightened Catherine the 
Great's edict aimed at confining the Jews to a kind of ghetto zone along 
the western borders and tolerated the pogroms which fanatics or hooligans 
periodically instigated against them. These attitudes made it impossible for 
the dynasty to employ the strategy of playing one minority group against 
another which greatly helped the Habsburgs and the Osmanlis to hold their 
crazy-quilt empires together. 

At the same time the Czar and his mentor dreamed, somewhat incon- 
gruously, of a "Third Rome" (Byzantium had been the second one): a 
vast zone of Russian hegemony stretching from the Balkans to the China 
Sea. As a starter, Nicholas talked quite seriously of annexing Manchuria, 
Mongolia, and Tibet, vassalizing China and driving the British out of India. 
These expansionist fantasies were encouraged by a succession of pictur- 
esque Far Eastern adventurers and by the Czar's cousin, Wilhelm II, who 
naturally preferred that Russian ambitions should be directed eastward 
rather than westward. 

"The great task of the future for Russia is to cultivate the Asian con- 
tinent and defend Europe from the inroads of the Great Yellow race," 
Wilhelm wrote to Nicholas in 1895. 

Another time the Kaiser sent the Czar a painting, based on a sketch of 
his own, showing Buddha presiding over an holocaust in the Far East, 
while Germany and Russia stood guard as sentinels of the True Faith. "I 
designed this drawing in Christmas week, under the glitter of the Christmas 
trees," Wilhelm said in an explanatory note. 

The Far Eastern chimera eventually led to the Russo-Japanese War of 
1904, precipitated by Russian encroachments in Korea. The idea that "a 
short, victorious war" as one of the Czar's ministers felicitiously put it, 
would help avert revolution at home, also contributed to Russia's bellicose 
attitude. The unbroken, humiliating succession of Russian defeats on land 
and sea, however, and particularly the spectacle of blunder, confusion, 
and corruption that produced them, was a nearly mortal blow to the dy- 
nasty's prestige. Strikes, riots, and miscellaneous disorders began erupting 
all over the empire. , 

''Bloody Sunday," January 9 according to the Orthodox calendar, is 
considered by most historians as marking the beginning of the 1905 revolu- 
tion. Weber-Bauler, the impressionable young tourist, who, three days ear- 
lier, had witnessed the spectacular attempt to assassinate the Czar during 
the Blessing of the Waters, also had a close-up glimpse of this vaster, more 
tragic drama. 

"Turning into the Nevsky Prospekt (the monumental boulevard leading 
to the Winter Palace) I saw advancing along the highway a slow-moving 


human flood," he relates. "It was a mute and terrible procession, black and 
gray and brown. The men wore peaked caps; the women's heads were 
covered with dark kerchiefs. These "pale, haggard faces" were iron- 
founders, workers from a rubber factory, men out of the Kronstadt work- 
shops . . . thousands and more thousands of "the true urban proletarians 
who had suffered for generations from undernourishment, alcoholic excess 
and syphilis . . . 

"Before them went a priest, an Orthodox pope, in black surplice. He 
was walking between an old white-bearded man and a very beautiful 
woman of a definitely Jewish type." The pope, a short man in a brown 
beard "was young and fragile," the report goes on, holding "a great icon 
of the Savior. 

"In full view of the Winter Palace, that palace whose front was the color 
of clotted blood, the priest, his followers and the foremost ranks of the 
crowd knelt in the snow. The procession slowly came to a standstill . . , 

"Suddenly, moving at the double, a company of infantry swung into the 
square. They lined up in front of the kneeling crowd. There was an order 
'Present; fire.' and the crackle of rifle shots followed by a terrible confusion. 
The foremost ranks fell; others rose to their feet and fled. The beautiful 
Jewess was one of the first victims." Hauler escaped through one of the 
small side-streets, "dragged along by the crowd." His final sight was of 
"Cossacks charging, their whips falling on the crowd and their horses 

Other eyewitnesses remember various details differently. All agree on the 
essentials: that a gigantic crowd of workers (some 200,000 moving in five 
separate columns) led by an Orthodox priest converged on the Winter 
Palace, along the five great avenues radiating from it; that the crowd was 
disciplined and pacific in intent many demonstrators carried pictures of the 
Emperor and sang the Imperial anthem, God Save the Czar and that the 
troops, after a perfunctory order to disperse, fired into the mob at close 
range, leaving at least 500 dead and several thousand wounded lying in 
the snow. 

The background of the massacre, which raised a blood-strained barrier 
between the Russian masses and the dynasty, was a typical Romanov blend 
of murder, muddle, and Machiavelli. The priest who led the march, George 
Gapon, was a former prison chaplain who had made a name for himself as 
labor organizer. He was the head of a shadowy organization called the 
Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers, which had been subsidized 
by the Okhrana, the regime's secret political police in the hope that it 
would split the working-class movement. Gapon had collaborated in an 
earlier, more ambitious experiment in "police socialism" that had got out 
of hand. The same fate quickly overtook the Okhrana's new venture. After 
organizing a successful strike at the great Putilov steel works, Gapon al- 


lowed himself to be talked, by Ms followers, into heading a mass demonstra- 
tion to petition the Czar. The petition included a number of flagrantly 
political and by Romanov standards, subversive demands, such as civil 
liberties and a constituent assembly; its very size was a threat to public 
order in the wartime capital. 

Some historians believe that Gapon, a complex, intensely Russian per- 
sonality who combined a streak of hysterical idealism with the Judas-bent 
of a born police spy, was swept away, or pushed further than he had in- 
tended to go, by secret revolutionary agents who had penetrated his stooge 
union. Several years later, however, a high official of the Okhrana, then 
stationed in Paris, boasted to the future French ambassador, Paleologue, 
that he had helped Gapon draft his fatal petition. If he was telling the 
truth, it was neither the first nor the last time that the Okhrana deliber- 
ately provoked revolutionary disorder so as to have an excuse for teaching 
the people a lesson by crushing it. Whether or not <c Bloody Sunday" was 
the work of Okhrana agents provocateurs, it could have been averted if the 
decisions of an inter-ministerial conference the day before had not been 
sabotaged either by design or by bureaucratic confusion. The Czar, with 
his family, had prudently moved out of the Winter Palace for Tsarskoe 
Selo, sixteen miles from the capital, and the workers* march to lay the 
petition before him was pointless. The ministerial conference issued in- 
structions that this fact be widely publicized, but they were not carried out 
and the demonstrators, unaware of the Czar's absence, started on schedule. 
Somebody also failed to pass on the ministerial order to break up the 
demonstration while the marchers were forming into groups and columns 
in the suburbs. The Romanov curse was still working. 

(As for Gapon, he survived the massacre, escaped torn the country and 
joined an emigr6 section of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, helped run 
guns to the 1905 insurrectionists, renewed contact with his old friends at 
the Okhrana, was condemned to death by his revolutionary comrades, and 
was finally strangled in an isolated chalet in Finland.) 

"Bloody Sunday" helped to shape the revolutionary conscience of a gen- 
eration, not only in Russia, but throughout the civilized world. In the 
United States the usually gentle Mark Twain was impelled to write his 
savage Czar's Soliloquy calling for revolution and assassination of the 
Czar, and attacking those moralists who condemned the use of revolu- 
tionary violence against tyrants. Similar incitements and arguments from 
other intellectuals in the following months or years found only too ready 
an audience. 

A short time after the massacre at the Winter Palace, and at least partly 
in retaliation for it, there occurred another tragic incident which likewise 
had far-reaching repercussions on the relationship between the dynasty and 
its subjects. A Socialist-Revolutionary student threw a powerful bomb at 


the Czar's uncle, Grand Duke Sergius, the military governor of the Moscow 
area, as his carriage was entering the gates of the Kremlin, and blew him 
into bloody gobbets. Sergius, noted for his harshness to Jews and intellec- 
tuals, had not been a popular figure; gruesome souvenirs, picked up at a 
considerable distance from the explosion were being sold the next day in 
the Moscow Thieves' Market for one rouble the fragment, according to 
public rumor. 

Nicholas got the news at the Peterhof Palace, outside St. Petersburg, as 
he was about to sit down to a family dinner with a royal visitor, young 
Prince Frederick-Leopold of Prussia, The Czarina did not appear; her elder 
sister, Elizabeth, it will be recalled, was the widow of the murdered Grand 
Duke. The Czar, however, insisted on going ahead with the meal; as 
Frederick-Leopold reported in a letter to the German Chancellor von 
Bulow, he even seemed to be in a gay humor; so did Nicholas' other guest, 
his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander. The assassination was not 

"After dinner," Bulow relates in his memoirs, the "brothers amused 
themselves by trying to push each other off the long, narrow sofa on which 
they were sitting." 

Prince Frederick-Leopold's amazement suggests that he was not a stu- 
dent of Freud or even of Dostoyevsky. Nicholas may not have been spe- 
cially attached to his dour uncle, but his horse-play with his brother-in-law 
a few hours after Sergius' ghastly end was anything but a symptom of indif- 
ference. The assassin's bomb had struck too close to the throne for that, 
and it also reactivated some painful and terrifying memories of childhood. 
(The reaction of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, like the Czarina an ardent 
convert to the Orthodox faith, was equally Dostoyevskian; she spent much 
of the night in the cell of her husband's murderer, a slender youth named 
Kalaiev, vainly beseeching him to ask God and the Czar for forgiveness.) 

Nicholas had no knowledge of the equivocal role played by his own 
Okhraaa in the assassination of Grand Duke Sergius (it had an informer 
in the terrorist group which plotted the outrage) as well as in the "Bloody 
Sunday" affair; the facts would not come to light for several years. The 
Moscow crime simply strengthened his inherited tendency to rely on the 
knout, the scaffold and the firing squad to uphold the autocracy, "Terror 
has to be met with terror," he wrote his mother in a letter that was to sur- 
vive for the Bolsheviks to publish after the war. 

Both sides acted in keeping with the same grim philosophy during the 
revolutionary struggles of 1905-1906, though not yet with the systematic 
fanaticism they were to display in 1917-1920. Some 1500 government 
officials lost their lives, many of them by assassination, during the strikes, 
riots, mutinies including the famous seizure of the battlecruiser Potemkin 
by its crew and insurrections that swept the country, rising to a dimax in 


November 1905. There are no reliable statistics on the number of revolu- 
tionists killed in action or shot out of hand during the same period. 

The most characteristic disorders were the peasant uprisings that broke 
out in unco-ordinated violence all over Russia. The wrath of the muzhiks 
80 per cent of whom were still illiterate had been smoldering for years; 
the land reform of Alexander n was not working satisfactorily the reim- 
bursements were too high and the fields allotted often too poor repeated 
crop failures had led to famine and atrocious suffering, farm prices were 
steadily falling while taxes stayed high. The peasants were not interested in 
constitutions and civil liberties; they wanted land, tax relief, revenge on the 
local officials who had chronically humiliated or mistreated them. Egged 
on by Socialist-Revolutionary agitators, who shrewdly played down politi- 
cal themes in their propaganda, they took up their shotguns or pitchforks 
and went berserk. Whole provinces were plunged into anarchy; across the 
Russian countryside there was an orgy of murder, pillage, banditry, and 
arson-above all arson. "The Red Cock: The Red Cock!" was the favorite 
battle cry of the marauding bands, and from the heart of Siberia to the 
western borders, the sinister fowl spread his wings of flaming allegory over 
rural police stations or tax bureaus, over the barns and stables of wealthy 
landowners, over the white-columned country mansions of the nobility. In 
many areas the gentry were systematically looted; sometimes they were 
threatened or roughed-up; only rarely were they massacred. These twen- 
tieth-century jacqueries were a form of class warfare, but class hatreds in 
Russia had not yet reached the ultimate pitch of inhumanity. 

In the cities the revolutionary movement was generally less furious, but 
no less grave. The different socialist groups temporarily put aside their doc- 
trinal quarrels, and in St. Petersburg even the moderate constitutionalists 
joined them for a while in an anti-regime co-ordinating committee Soviet 
whose designation was to become a revolutionary symbol. Elsewhere the 
Socialist-Revolutionaries, with their deep peasant roots, were the most im- 
portant enemies of the autocracy, but in the capital the Marxist Social- 
Democrats, including Lenin's Bolsheviks, played a star role, for the first 
time in Russian history. Though he theoretically disapproved of it, Lenin 
himself slipped back from exile to help steer the St Petersburg Soviet into 
the course of all-out revolution. Lenin's direct contribution to the dramatic 
events of 1905 was less substantial, however, than that of a younger Marxist 
intellectual, Leon Trotsky, whose name for the first time now became 
known to millions of Russian workers. Trotsky, bora Lev Davydovich 
Bronstein, the son of a well-to-do Jewish fanner, shared many of Lenin's 
viewpoints, but he refused to take sides in the quarrel that had developed 
between the Bolshevik and the Menshevik (Minority) factions within what 
was still theoretically a united Social-Democratic party, and he was not 
particularly close to Lenin at the time. Only twenty-six years old, Trotsky 


with his thick glasses and his long unruly mop of hair, looked almost a 
caricaturist's model of the revolutionary bookworm, but he soon proved 
that he could act as well as theorize and orate. As vice-chairman of the 
St. Petersburg Soviet the chairman was an obscure Menshevik lawyer he 
rapidly became the outstanding leader of the 1905 revolutionary movement 
in Russia. Trotsky was ably seconded by a picturesque but gifted member 
of the 6migre underground named Alexander Helfand, alias Parvus, who 
between plots to set up the dictatorship of the proletariat, had found time 
to become a rising publisher and financier in Germany. Trotsky, assisted 
by Parvus, took command of the nation-wide general strike that had 
broken out more or less spontaneously after the signing of the humiliating 
peace treaty with Japan in September, and at one time came fairly close to 
toppling the Czar off his throne with it. 

As the revolutionary threat grew increasingly serious, repression be- 
came steadily more savage. The moment came in mid-October when 
Nicholas saw that he would either have to name a military dictator and 
grant him unlimited authority to restore order by naked force, or make 
concessions to the constitutionalists. Dictatorship was the lesser evil in his 
eyes, but the only acceptable dictator, the Czar's cousin Grand Duke Nich- 
olas Nicholaievitch, refused the job and even, according to some accounts, 
threatened to blow out his brains on the spot if he were pressed to take it. 
Nothing was left except as Nicholas explained to his mother "to cross 
oneself and give what everyone was asking for." The Czar crossed himself 
and gave, but he was a notorious Indian giver. He issued an Imperial 
manifesto largely drawn up by Count S. G. Witte, a sensible Conservative, 
that transformed Russia into what might be considered the larval stage of 
a constitutional monarchy, with civil liberties, free elections, and a rep- 
resentative assembly possessing rudimentary legislative authority; Witte 
himself was appointed as the first Western-style Prime Minister in Russian 
history. At the same time, however, Nicholas named General D. F. Trepov, 
the harsh-fisted military governor of St. Petersburg, as the commandant of 
his palace guard, and made him his de facto Chief of Staff. While Witte 
maneuvered, with some success, to split the revolutionary front and win 
back the moderates, Nicholas, with Trepov's help, launched a series of 
punitive expeditions across the land; a particularly ferocious one, com- 
manded by General Orlov, did what the Czar considered "splendid work" 
in the Baltic province. 

Parallel to the official repression, Nicholas, under the influence of Pobe- 
donostsev and another old Mend of his father's, Prince Vladimir Mesh- 
cherski, a paleo-fascist, whose incendiary propaganda sheet, Grashdanin 
(The Citizen) was the only newspaper he regularly read, encouraged the 
formation of monarchist-nationalist vigilante groups. These gangs, later 
known as the "Black Hundred" bands (after one of the medieval guilds), 


specialized in protecting the throne by beating, robbing, and killing Jews. 
Nicholas strongly approved. Jews were "nine-tenths of the trouble," he 
explained to his mother, and this infuriated the people, leading to pogroms. 
"It's amazing how they [pogroms] took place simultaneously in all towns 
in Russia and Siberia," he wrote, with more than his usual naivete. 

Some of the ideological roots of German National Socialism were planted 
in Russia during the year 1905, and Russian Right-Wing Radicals like 
Meshcherski count among the intellectual ancestors of the Nazi theoreti- 
cians Goebbels and Rosenberg. 

On occasion the Czar, under the influence of Alexandra's synthetic mys- 
ticism, listened to even weirder counselors, among them a French healer 
and spiritualist from Lyon, Dr. Encausse, known in St. Petersburg occultist 
circles as Papus. In response to an SOS from some of his highly placed 
Russian friends, Papus dropped his "practice" in France and rushed back 
to St. Petersburg, arriving early in October. An interview with the Czar and 
the Czarina was soon arranged and at their request the necromancer or- 
ganized a spiritualistic seance at Tsarskoe Selo. The fantastic scene was 
recalled years later for Paleologue by one of the well-informed and indis- 
creet ladies of the Imperial Court that he made a point of cultivating. 

"By an intense concentration of will and a prodigious expenditure of 
fluid dynamism, the 'Spiritual Master' succeeded in calling up the spirit of 
the most pious Czar Alexander III," the ambassador relates in his memoirs. 
"In spite of the fear which clutched at his heart, Nicholas II bluntly asked 
his father whether he should or should not resist the current of liberalism 
which was threatening to overwhelm Russia. The spirit replied: 'At any 
cost you must crush the revolution now beginning; but it will spring up 
again one day and its violence will be proportionate to the severity with 
which it is put down today. But what does it matter! Be brave, my son! Do 
not give up the struggle.'" 

Nicholas did his best to carry out the somewhat chilling instructions 
from his father's spirit, transmitted if the anecdote is authentic through 
the mouth of Papus. The St. Petersburg Soviet, abandoned by the Moder- 
ates, was outlawed and its chiefs, including Trotsky and Parvus, arrested 
(Lenin escaped via Finland) . Among the smaller fry taken was a young 
Socialist-Revolutionary combat leader named Alexander Kerensky. When 
the Moscow revolutionary Soviet launched a retaliatory insurrection it was 
drowned in blood (more than 1000 workers were killed), though the 
Socialist-Revolutionaries won themselves new glory by blowing up the local 
headquarters of the Okhrana. Ruthless clean-up actions of various types 
followed in all parts of the empire, among them a purge of government 
offices in which 7000 bureaucrats lost their jobs. 

Repression continued to alternate with concession for several years. Lib- 
eral ministers were appointed, then disowned; reform policies enacted, then 


scuttled or suspended. The national assembly (duma) was elected, twice 
dissolved, elected again. At first glance the moderate liberals seem to emerge 
from the struggle of 1905 as victors, since they achieved their key objective, 
a constitution, but their victory was a pyrrhic one. They had compromised 
themselves in the eyes of the Right by their initial collusion with the 
revolutionary parties and irremediably discredited themselves in the eyes 
of the workers by their ultimate desertion from the revolutionary cause. 

The rudimentary constitution granted by Nicholas II was too imperfect 
to furnish a new basis for the monarchy, but it was substantial enough to 
weaken the psychological underpinnings of the autocracy. And by shedding 
so much blood to postpone according it, the Czar had brought about a 
fatal, if subtle, transformation in the public image of the reigning autocrat; 
to the Russian masses it seemed henceforth that the Emperor looked down 
on them not with the confident gaze of stern majesty, but with the fixed 
glare of the tyrant at bay. 

In final analysis, only the extremists of the right and the left though 
the latter fell for a while into public disfavor benefited from the abortive 
revolution; they were not merely hardened by the ordeal, in the sense of 
being fanaticized, but tempered for further combat. Their subterranean 
duel, at home and abroad, helped to generate the climate of conspiracy 
in which the seeds of general war finally sprouted. 

The year of the red cock was also the year of the dragon's teeth, not only 
for the Russian monarchy but for Europe and world peace. Its first, but 
not its most deadly, fruits were to become apparent almost immediately. 


The Fossil Monarchy 

'THHE revolutionary crisis of 1905 in Russia seriously joggled 
J_ the delicate European balance of power. The German 
Kaiser's abortive meeting with the Czar at Bjorkoe illustrated some of its 
repercussions on the chessboard of classic diplomacy. Its impact on the 
domestic equilibrium in the other autocratic empires of Europe was per- 
haps even more significant. 

For more than a century Russia had been the bastion of reaction and the 
symbol of autocracy. Other monarchs admired the Czars for their uncom- 
promising dedication to the cause of their own absolutism, and envied 
them the docile, subject masses that seemed to go on accepting it without 
question, generation after generation. Now these supposedly immutable 
masses were stirring, and the intransigent autocrat had been forced into 
compromise. Revolution had broken out in Russia; it could happen any- 

In Constantinople toward which Russian nationalist eyes would soon be 
turning, now that Japan's proved military strength closed the door on fur- 
ther expansion in East Asia Sultan Abdul Hamid II, barricaded in his 
fortress-seraglio, sniffed the winds of political change, like some intelligent, 
fretful little rodent, quivering in its golden lair, and found them more than 
ever a bewildering mixture of threat and promise. Along with the delicious 
reek of dynastic corruption wafted from across the Black Sea came the 
contagiously antiseptic odor of constitutional reform. Even in stable, pros- 
perous, authority-loving Germany, with its tame Marxists and its ever- 
dependable Prussian officer-caste, Wilhelm n, as the year wore on, became 
increasingly uneasy over the ideological implications of the turmoil in Rus- 
sia. The letters of advice with which he bombarded his unfortunate cousin, 


Nicky, throughout the upheaval gradually lost their Wagnerian bombast 
and took on a tone of sober warning or reproach. 

It was in Austria-Hungary, however, that the Russian disorders had both 
the most explosive and the most paradoxical effect. Starting in September 
1905, the Social-Democrats, supported by many spokesmen of the Slav 
minorities, launched a campaign of agitation for universal suffrage and 
general electoral reform (the existing system was scandalously weighted in 
favor of the landowning aristocracy). Strikes, demonstrations, and riots 
broke out in several parts of the Empire. They rose to a crescendo when 
news of the Czar's October manifesto, promising the Russian people con- 
stitutional government and free elections, reached Vienna at the end of 
the month. On November 2 there was a large-scale, though not very bloody, 
clash between demonstrating workers and police along the Ringstrasse of 
the capital. The very next day Francis Joseph let his subjects know that 
he had graciously decided to grant them full voting rights, at least in the 
Austrian half of his realms. 

As later events proved, it was one of the most disastrous decisions the 
aged Emperor ever took, but he seemed to have little choice. The Socialists 
pointedly underscored the strength of their position later in the month by 
organizing a peaceful victory parade in which some 250,000 Austrian 
workers, wearing red armbands and marching in disciplined ranks, filed 
past the parliament building on the Ring. Pressure from below, however, 
was probably not the dominant element in forcing the Emperor's hand. 
The veteran of more unsuccessful rearguard actions against history than 
any crowned head since King Canute, Francis Joseph had repeatedly dem- 
onstrated in the course of a reign stretching from the days of Metternich 
to the age of Woodrow Wilson that he was not the kind of ruler to panic 
at a few street demonstrations; he had his own reasons this time for yield- 
ing so rapidly to the public clamor, and they were typically Habsburg ones. 
A venerable, and in some respects, benevolent, despot, thinly disguised as a 
constitutional monarch, Francis Joseph, as we shall see, was deliberately 
exploiting the hunger for electoral reform, touched off among the most 
advanced of his subjects by the apparent liberal victory in Russia, in order 
to blackmail a peculiarly backward group the Hungarians who were 
threatening to give him trouble for reactionary reasons. His political strat- 
egy suggested the naive Machiavellism that one might expect from some 
harassed overlord of the Middle Ages, emancipating his burghers to humble 
his barons, and the analogy is not wholly accidental; politically speaking 
Austria-Hungary was in many ways a fossil remnant of Medieval Europe, 
embedded in twentieth-century history. 

The Habsburg lands had developed into an empire without ever becom- 
ing a nation. Stretching from Lake Constance on the Swiss-German border 
to the Transylvanian Alps, and from Lemberg (today Lvov) in Poland, to 


Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Trieste on the Adriatic, Austria-Hungary was the 
second largest state in Europe from the viewpoint of area, with 240,456 
square miles and the third largest in population, with something over 50,- 
000,000 subjects, speaking a dozen different languages and dialects. 

"Eight nations, seventeen countries, twenty parliamentary groups, 
twenty-seven parties," sighed one Austro-Hungariafl statesman cited by the 
French historian, Pierre Renouvin. 

The dominant elements in this political goulash were the Germans and 
the Hungarian Magyars (the descendants of early invaders from the Asian 
steppes) a little less than 10,000,000 of each, who considered all their 
other fellow subjects of the Habsburg crown as "minorities.'* This appella- 
tion was understandably contested by the 30,000,000 Czechs, Slovaks, 
Poles, Ruthenians, Rumanians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and lesser racial 
groups who constituted the bulk of the population. If one counted the 
Czecho-Slovaks as a single people they were actually the majority group. 

The juridical framework which held together the whole intricate mosaic 
was a masterpiece of legalistic whimsy that defied the laws of political 
gravity. The Austrian half, the original family estates of the Habsburgs plus 
some later acquisitions, did not even have a proper name it might be 
argued that between 1867 and 1918 there was no such country as Austria 
but was officially designed as "the kingdoms and provinces represented 
in the Reichsrath (parliament)." They included present-day Austria, Bo- 
hemia (the Czech part of Czechoslovakia), Polish Galicia, the Rumanian 
Bukovina, some of the Slovene areas of present Yugoslavia, most of the 
Dalmatian coast and the Italian-speaking Trentino. Hungary ruled all the 
other subject territories and peoples, including Slovakia, Transylvania, and 
Croatia. There were four parliamentsthe two main ones in Vienna and 
Budapest, and satellite diets in Prague and Agram (Zagreb), the capital of 
Croatia which had a special statute under the Hungarian Crown, but no 
common one for the whole empire, which of course was not officially an 
empire, though it was ruled by an Emperor. (Bosnia-Herzegovina, adminis- 
tered by the Joint Finance Ministry, also had its diet.) 

Here we come to the quasi-metaphysical concepts and symbols of dual- 
ism, which have provided almost as much subject for controversy to mod- 
ern jurists as those of the Holy Trinity did to medieval theologians. Roughly, 
very roughly, speaking, the Dual Monarchy, as established by the so-called 
Ausgleich (settlement) of 1867, consisted of two sovereign states, each 
possessing semiautonomous dependent territories, linked but not in identi- 
cal fashionto the person of a common ruler. In Austria he held the tide of 
His Apostolic Majesty the King Emperor of Austria-Hungary. (The title 
of Holy Roman Emperor formerly used by the Habsburgs had been aban- 
doned in 1806.) There were joint Austro-Hungarian Ministries for War, 
Foreign Affairs, and Finance. They were termed Koniglich-und-Kaiserlich 


or K-u-K (Royal and Imperial) departments. The other branches were 
called simply Koniglich-Kaiserlich (Royal-Imperial) in Austria, and Ko- 
niglich in Hungary. The Army was K-u-K. The railroads changed as they 
crossed boundaries. The railroad carriage that carried a traveler from Vi- 
enna to Budapest was K-K up to the Hungarian border and merely K from 
there on. If requisitioned by the Army, however, it would be K-u-K all the 
way. The whole relationship was really quite simple if you thought of it in 
mathematical terms; an Austrian, as the Viennese novelist Robert Musil 
explained with his unique irony, possessed a citizenship equivalent to that 
of an Austrian plus a Hungarian, minus that same Hungarian. 

The most illogical human institutions are not always the least durable, as 
demonstrated by the monarchy in Britain, and if the difficulty of defining 
the Dual Monarchy had been its greatest weakness it might still be flourish- 
ing under the royal, royal-imperial and royal-and-imperial sway of the 
Habsburgs. Unfortunately, the paradoxes of its protocol were only the re- 
flection of basic anachronisms in its structure. It was certain of these struc- 
tural defects that had obliged Francis Joseph to discipline his Hungarian 
subjects by enacting an electoral reform which fundamentally was as dis- 
tasteful to him as it was to them. The Hungarians, prodded by the fanatics 
of Magyar nationalism who had apparently forgotten that they were sup- 
posed to belong to a "majority" people were demanding the abolition of 
German as the language of command in the Royal-and-imperial Army and 
were threatening to convert its Hungarian units into a purely national, or 
single "K" army. This would have transformed the Dual Monarchy, for 
all practical purposes, from a juridical puzzle into a farce, and the old 
Emperor, a soldier above all else, was determined not to let it happen* 
"The Army is not a joking matter," he told his Hungarian ministers. 

In the political climate that the Russian uprisings had created throughout 
Europe, there was only one weapon left to Francis Joseph to ward off the 
danger of a de facto Hungarian secession. He could frighten the semifeudal 
Magyar landowners, whose oligarchy in Hungary was based on iniquitous 
election laws, with the menace of free, direct, and universal suffrage. To 
impose electoral reform on the Hungarian magnates at once might be risky 
however; it was essential to Francis Joseph's strategy to keep the threat of 
it hanging over their heads. It was at this point that his Royal-Imperial 
Social-Democrats unwittingly came to the aid of their Emperor; by yielding 
to their demand for an electoral new deal in the Austrian half of his em- 
pire, he could give the stubborn Magyars an object lesson in the fate that 
awaited them if they continued to defy him. This policy seems too devious 
to have originated in the sensible, unimaginative mind of Francis Joseph; 
but the Habsburg throne was surrounded with subtle, frequently oversubtle, 
political advisers. By taking their advice in the incipient constitutional crisis 
of 1905, the Emperor achieved his prime objective safeguarding the unity 


of the Imperial Army but in so doing opened a Pandora's box of national- 
ist agitation which aggravated disunity in the empire as a whole. 

To understand how this came about it is necessary to recapitulate briefly 
the story of the Habsburg dynasty and that of Francis Joseph's own reign; 
together they constitute a momentous and fascinating chapter in the chron- 
icle of modern Europe. Such as it is, our world today owes more to both 
than we generally realize. 

The Emperor crypt of the Capuchin chapel in the heart of Old Vienna is 
the family mausoleum of the Habsburgs. The dust of twelve emperors and 
fifteen empresses lies there in the golden gloom, watched over by four 
crowned skulls whose sightless eye sockets are turned toward the red and 
white tomb of Frederick HI (d. 1493), the first member of the dynasty to 
use the title. To the modern eye there seems as much pride as humility in 
the baroque symbolism; there was a time when the Habsburg realms were 
second only to the universal monarchy for which the crowned skulls stand. 

It was Frederick who adopted and carved over a gate of the Hofburg 
the boastful motto AEIOU, an interchangeable Latin-German anagram 
(Austriae est imperare orbi universo or Alles Erdreich 1st Oesterreich un- 
tertkari) signifying that it is Austria's destiny to rule the world. In modest, 
pacific, republican present-day Austria, the words have a pathetic ring, 
but then, they never really applied to Austria. The Habsburgs were some- 
thing else. 

"In other countries dynasties are episodes in the history of peoples," com- 
ments A. J. P. Taylor, "In the Habsburg Empire peoples are a complication 
in the history of a dynasty . . . No other family has endured so long or left 
so deep a mark upon Europe." 

The first Habsburg king was born in 1218, exactly 700 years before 
the last one, the Emperor Charles, abandoned his throne. Rudolph of 
Habsburg was a feudal lord whose possessions amounted to a few hundred 
acres of wooded rolling country on the Swiss plateau, in Alsace, and south- 
ern Germany. He descended from an already ancient family whose name 
derived from a castle built in the eleventh century: the "Habichtsburg" 
or castle of the hawk. The walls of the ruined keep, six feet thick, still stand 
and can be visited near Zurich, in Switzerland From his ancestors one of 
them was Count of Zurich Rudolph had inherited the protectorate over the 
"Waldstatte," the original Swiss cantons whose struggle against their Habs- 
burg overlords was later dramatized in the legend of Wilhelm Tell. 

It was not his riches or military strength, but rather the lack of them, 
that caused Rudolph to be elected "King of the Romans" as the rulers of 
Germany were then called. This was an optimistic appellation; it is true 
that the Holy Roman Empire had become the Holy Germanic Roman 
Empire since a German king, Otto the Great, had knelt before the Pope in 


Rome to be crowned with Charlemagne's Golden Crown and hailed like 
him, Caesar and Augustus, but it had become a hollow title. Medieval 
Europe had curdled into hundreds of small warring States, whose lords 
would tolerate no king but one of their own choosing, and the monarchy 
had become elective. When Rudolph was finally chosen, the crown had 
gone begging for over twenty years; no one cared to rule the hornets' nest 
of nearly four hundred feudal baronies which in French chronicles of the 
day is referred to as "Les Allemagnes" and where no writ prevailed but 
that of the "Faustrechf* (Law of the mailed fist). 

Rudolph turned out to be more than the German princes had bargained 
for. Defeating the King of Bohemia, he acquired the Ostmark (roughly 
Austria and northern Yugoslavia) and thus became the richest landowner 
in the empire; its wary prince-electors took prudent note and returned the 
imperial crown to Habsburg hands only intermittently for the next two 
hundred years. In the fifteenth century however, a Habsburg Emperor, 
Frederick III, finally made it practically hereditary by the simple device of 
having his son elected heir-presumptive during his lifetime; successive 
Habsburgs adopted the practice as a family tradition. The same Frederick, a 
colorless but ambitious ruler, founded another Habsburg tradition, that 
of expansion by matrimony. "Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube" 
("Let others wage war, but you, happy Austria, marry") became the un- 
official Habsburg motto. 

Frederick's son, Maximilian, (1459-1519) who married the Netherlands 
and a nice strip of eastern France, perfected the policy. He betrothed his 
heir to a bride whose intellect was cloudy but whose dowry was brilliant; 
Joan the Crazy, daughter to their Most Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and 
Isabella of Spain (and, thanks to Christopher Columbus, of certain lands 
beyond the ocean sea) . The Spanish connection also brought to the Habs- 
burgs the pompous, stiff etiquette of Isabella's court (which was still being 
observed at that of Francis Joseph), the narrow foreheads and drooping 
mouths immortalized in the canvasses of Velasquez, the strain of melan- 
choly or even occasional madness that kept cropping up in the family, and 
the blight of Castillian bigotry; these were the days when the smoke of 
the Spanish Inquisition's autos-da-fe darkened the Mediterranean sky. 

With Maximilian the Habsburgs began to bulge out of their purely Ger- 
man frame and become a European dynasty, but Maximilian himself, de- 
picted in a portrait by Albrecht Durer as a sharp-nosed, splendid grand 
seigneur, was above all a Viennese. He was born in the city, and there he 
lies buried. Brilliant and flighty, he was described by his Florentine con- 
temporary, Niccolo Machiavelli as "the greatest spendthrift of our time, or 
any other." Naturally, Vienna loved him. 

Maximilian's grandson, Charles V (d. 1558), was more cosmopolitan. 
Born and brought up in the Netherlands, he inherited from his Austrian- 


French father the Low Countries, the Tranche Comt6 (the Burgundy- Jura 
area of modern France) and all the traditional Habsburg possessions. From 
his Spanish mother he acquired, at the age of eighteen, the crown of Spain 
and the greatest colonial empire in the world, including the known parts of 
Central and South America and sizable tracts of what was to become the 
United States of America. The sun, his courtiers boasted somewhat loosely, 
never set on his realms. AEIOU became merely a pithy summary of the 
Habsburg imperial mission. 

The universalist vocation implicit in the family slogan developed, with 
the post-medieval Habsburgs, into more than a passion for collecting real 
estate; it was at once their glory, and their undoing. Though the Habsburgs 
could hardly be called a family of intellectuals, their story is intertwined 
with the history of ideas since the sixteenth century, to a degree unmatched 
in that of any other European dynasty. In each century, right up to the 
twentieth, as A. J. P. Taylor points out, they identified themselves with 
some great ideological movement and became the foremost champions of 
some supranational cause of doctrine. The causes were generally lost ones, 
and the ideas unpopular, but they were not always so retrograde as they 
seemed to those who held opposing views. The peculiar tragedy of the 
Habsburgs is that they were usually as far ahead of their age in some re- 
spects as they were behind it in others. They were historic failures, in the 
sense that they consistently missed achieving their major goals, but they 
count among the most imposing, or even glorious, failures in history. 

"Glorious failure" is certainly the appropriate epitaph for Charles V, 
the greatest monarch of the Renaissance. For thirty years this essentially 
peaceloving, introverted, deeply religious man rode at the head of his ar- 
mies, back and forth across the face of Europe, from the Netherlands to 
Sicily, from Spain to the Danube, pursuing the grand medieval dream of 
Christian and European unity. The pursuit was a hopeless one. Charles 
did succeed in saving much of Europe from Turkish invasion, an achieve- 
ment that today is sometimes underrated, but the spread of Lutheranism 
had irremediably split the Western church, and the rise of the nation-state 
inexorably doomed the Continent to political compartmentation. Charles' 
victory over his French colleague, Francis I, at the Battle of Pavia was in 
one respect a triumph of the supranational over the national ideal, but it 
was the last meaningful one Europe was to see for nearly four centuries. 
Though neither Francis nor England's Henry VIII could equal Charles* 
spread, their dynasties were more firmly rooted in the soil of their home- 
lands. The mere extent of Charles' scattered empire made it ungovernable 
in an age of rudimentary communications. Eventually he had to admit his 
limitations. Sick and exhausted from his labors, he retired at the age of 
fifty-six to a small country house in Spain, and renounced the Imperial 
crown, together with the Habsburg family holdings in Central Europe, in 


favor of his brother Ferdinand; at the same time he handed over the Spanish 
crown to his son Philip, thus splitting into two allied but separate parts the 
greatest concentration of power in Europe since Charlemagne. 

The story of the Spanish Habsburgs is a long decline from grandeur, 
ending in 1700 when the branch became extinct. 

The Austrian line, at first considered as poor relations by their mag- 
nificent Spanish cousins, was to go on playing a splendid, if increasingly 
tragic, role for much longer. It continued to champion the cause of Europe 
against the Turks for more than a century, after crusading had gone out of 
fashion (though the need for it was greater than ever); the last Moslem 
assault was thrown back under the walls of Vienna in 1683. The wars 
against the Turks earned the Habsburgs numerous rewards in addition to 
the crusader's halo and the legendary sack of coffee the foe had aban- 
doned on the battlefield. In return for their protection against the infidel, 
the Bohemians and the Hungarians offered their vacant thrones (in 1526) 
to Ferdinand I, not to become part of the Holy Germanic Roman Empire 
over which he ruled, but in personal unions that were supposed to respect 
their separate national sovereignties. In the seventeenth century the Em- 
peror Leopold I declared the ancient crowns of St. Stephen (Hungary) 
and St. Wenceslas (Bohemia-Moravia, that is roughly modern Czechoslo- 
vakia) as hereditary possessions of the Habsburg family, along with the 
Holy Roman one made for Otto the Great in 962 and the almost equally 
famous Iron Crown of Lombardy. At the same time he began the process 
of whittling away Hungarian and Czech liberties, thus planting the seeds 
of two particularly virulent nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalisms. 
Their future growth proved all the more tangled and prickly because in 
swallowing up the ancient Kingdom of Hungary, the Habsburgs, like a big 
fish devouring a slightly smaller one with the remains of an undigested 
minnow still sticking in its throat, had recognized the claim of their new 
Magyar vassals to the lands of the no-less ancient Kingdom of Croatia, ab- 
sorbed by Hungary in the twelfth century after it had two centuries of 
national independence behind it. As Gordon Shepherd remarks in his Aus- 
trian Odyssey, the "South Slav Problem" which was to be one of the cru- 
cial issues of the twentieth century, had its root in the Dark Ages. 

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Habsburgs likewise 
continued to identify themselves with the secular aims of the Counter Ref- 
ormation; it was largely thanks to them that the insurgent forces of Prot- 
estantism were contained in northern and northeastern Europe. From the 
viewpoint of the Empire, however, this defensive victory of the Catholic 
cause was a disastrous one that aggravated the disunity of the Germanic 
world. After the shambles of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in which 
Catholic and Protestant rulers fought each other to a bloody stalemate and 
reduced much of Central Europe to a ravaged waste, the Imperial crown 

/:m HOUSE; "Of '.H A B'S B : U K'IOK 

-0 F -JH A B S B U K. G -~ ' I K" TCA I N 

marie Antoinette 
in. Louis xvi of frame 


Charles Joseph John 

d.1847 d.W4T d.185? 


charlts Louis Louis Victor 

Trands ferflmni. 
m. Sophie Cliatek 

Otto , 
m. Josepkiof Saxony ' 


(renounced muh 




became an empty symbol. The Habsburg dominions at the beginning of the 
eighteenth century still stretched from Calais to the Russian plain and from 
north Germany to northern Italy, but the empire was a fragile shell of its 
former grandeur and the Habsburgs were increasingly being thrown back 
upon their family holdings. From the religious viewpoint their attempt to 
uphold orthodoxy by the sword had been equally inconclusive, even in 
their own fiefs. The Austrian baroque style of architecture which the Jesuits, 
the indefectible allies of the dynasty, were largely responsible for introduc- 
ing into the Habsburg lands is an apt symbol of this dubious victory. The 
worldly triviality, bordering on frivolousness, which so often underlies the 
baroque striving for magnificence and fervor, came to mark not only the 
facades of the empire's churches but all too often the attitudes of their 
congregations; Leopold I was even obliged to promulgate an edict for- 
bidding flirting and gossiping in places of worship. 

The original Habsburg branch died out with the death of Charles VT, 
but Ms daughter, Maria Theresa, the only reigning Empress in the history 
of the family, launched a sturdy offshoot by marrying the Duke of Lor- 
raine and bearing sixteen little Habsburg-Lorraines, among them the un- 
lucky Marie Antoinette. The so-called Pragmatic Sanction, 1 a special law 
which her father bullied or wheedled his vassals into accepting to legalize 
her accession (only males had hitherto been eligible to mount the Imperial 
throne) served at the same time to complete the merger of the formerly in- 
dependent countries or territories, held by the Habsburgs under various 
feudal conveyances, into a centralized empire. A dauntless woman who up- 
held her contested right to the throne in two major wars, and a conscientious 
ruler despite her family distractions, Maria Theresa possessed both the 
Viennese talent of enjoying herself and the Viennese gift of simplicity. 

lit is possible to lead a satisfactory twentieth-century life without knowing why 
the Pragmatic Sanction was pragmatic, or exactly what it sanctioned, but to readers 
in whose minds the words tend to reverberate with a Thurberesque obsessiveness, 
the following explanation may save some sleep: 

The term, taken from Roman law (Pragmatica Sanctio), was familiar to European 
jurisprudence long before the time of Maria Theresa, Essentially it served to give a 
cloak of legal respectability to arbitrary decisions of the supreme power intervening on 
behalf of the state or crown in disputes between private parties or subsidiary au- 
thorities. The Pragmatic Sanction of the Emperor Charles VI decreed in effect that 
it was in the interests of the Empire to alter the Habsburg family rules of succession 
so as to make sure that his daughter, Maria Theresa, would succeed him. Normally, 
the eldest daughter of the late Emperor Joseph I should have been crowned after 
Charles* death (there were no near male heirs). The Sanction stipulated that hence- 
forth the Habsburg dominions would pass undivided to the children, first male, then 
female, of the last reigning Emperor, starting with the issue Maria Theresa of Charles 
himself. By this high-handed procedure Charles not only deprived his niece of her 
birthright to the profit of his own daughter but imposed an arbitrary change in Habsburg 
family law as the supreme writ of the Empire, thereby overriding a number of 
traditional and contractual arrangements between the Imperial crown and the vassal 
nations that acknowledged its authority, not to mention several international treaties. 
The result was to embroil the House of Austria in a long series of wars. 


To announce to her subjects the birth of one of her numerous grandchil- 
dren, she once stood up in her loge at the Vienna Opera and shouted, 
"Leopold has a son!" 

Her successor, Joseph II (1765-1790), was a new kind of Habsburg. 
The others had exploited ideas; he generated them and most un-Habsburg 
ones at that. In the seventeenth century Vienna had been the supreme bas- 
tion of the Counter Reformation; in the eighteenth, Joseph converted it 
into one of the most advanced outposts of the Enlightenment. He was the 
most benevolent and the least despotic of the benevolent despots (Frederick 
the Great, Catherine the Great, and himself). He liked to thinV of himself 
as the "Emperor of the People," and in donating to the city of Vienna the 
Prater, the lovely and frivolous park that has been the delight of its citizens 
ever since, he dedicated it "To my fellow-men from their true servant." 

Joseph undertook a sweeping program of reforms, abolishing serfdom 
and the legal use of torture, antagonizing the feudal nobility by his egali- 
tarian fiscal doctrines. It was probably due to Joseph's timely eradication of 
economic and social abuses inherited from the Middle Ages that Austrian 
society stood up as well as it did against the storm winds of the French 
Revolution if his brother-in-law Louis XVI had been as alert there might 
never have been one but he could not eliminate the basic anachronism 
of the Habsburg system without undermining the very foundations of the 
dynasty. In Taylor's words, "The Habsburg lands were a collection of 
entailed estates, not a State; and the Habsburgs were landlords, not rulers." 
Their empire, the British historian points out, "rested on tradition, on 
dynastic rights and on international treaties"; they could not be anything 
but the implacable foe of the French Revolution and of the upstart Cor- 
sican adventurer, Napoleon. Joseph's son, Francis I, it is true, gave 
his daughter Marie Louise, to the usurper but this was only a temporary 
gesture of appeasement. Francis managed to be on the losing side of most 
of Napoleon's great battles and had to yield up the German territories on 
which his title was based. He accordingly laid aside the crown of Otto the 
Great the emblem itself was thriftily stored away and can be seen today 
in the museum of the Hofburg and changed his own designation from 
"Francis II, Holy Germanic Roman Emperor," to "Francis I, Emperor of 

After the downfall of Napoleon, the Habsburgs recovered many of their 
lands but did not attempt to revive the Holy Roman Empire. Their immov- 
able Chancellor, Prince Klemens von Metternich, a prim-faced, iron-willed 
zealot of reaction, took charge of the Habsburg destinies and in their name 
propagated the ideology of the traditionalist counterrevolution. It was 
mainly due to Metternich's influence that the Holy Alliance of Christian 
monarchs, proposed by Czar Alexander I at the Congress of Vienna in 
1814, emerged as a repressive league for the maintenance of the dynastic 


and territorial status quo in Europe. Nationalism, one of the dynamic ideas 
generated and spread by the French Revolution, was his particular bgte 

Metternich's phobia was an understandable one. Austria, that is the re- 
mains of the Habsburg empire, was not a nation in the sense that France, 
England, Prussia, Spain, and even Alexander's Russia were nations. It 
was a supranational community, artificially bound together by the authority 
of a dynasty that derived its mandate from a mixture of habit and medieval 
land-jurisprudence. Patriotism itself was a suspect virtue in Habsburg Aus- 
tria. When one of his subjects was recommended to him as an outstanding 
patriot, Francis I testily inquired, "But is he a patriot for me?" In the twen- 
tieth century this outlook enabled two Habsburgs-one of them being the 
Archduke Francis Ferdinand to figure as at least timid pioneers of a new 
pattern of European federalism, but in the nineteenth century it doomed 
the dynasty not only to oppose the rising Slav, Magyar, and Italian na- 
tionalisms with bayonets, but to throw up a fragile barricade against the 
movement for German unification, which a rival feudal family, the Ho- 
henzollerns of Prussia, exploited to achieve imperial grandeur. The brunt 
of this double mission fell mainly on Francis Joseph I, the nephew of 
Francis Fs feeble-minded son, Ferdinand. In his remote courtesy, unwaver- 
ing sense of duty, quiet authority, old-fashioned simplicity, and narrow- 
minded singleness of purpose he was the ideal captain for a sinking ship. 
The reign of Nicholas II in Russia demonstrates with Elizabethan starkness 
some of the mechanisms of historical nemesis; the less garish drama of 
Francis Joseph's life illustrates the dignity as well as the inevitability of the 
tragic principle in human history. 

To the world of our fathers, Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria-Hun- 
gary was a symbol of human and institutional permanence. Middle-aged 
men who had known him since childhood as a grizzled old gentleman with 
bushy sideburns that drooped like jowls felt reassured every time they saw 
the changeless, familiar face in their newspaper. After Britain's Queen Vic- 
toria, he was the supreme personification of nineteenth-century values and 
tradition; he was born eleven years later than she was, but survived her by 
fifteen. In all he reigned sixty-eight years. Woodrow Wilson was President 
of the United States when Francis Joseph died, in 1916 at the age of 
eighty-six. Andrew Jackson was President the year he was born, J830. 
Metternich, Talleyrand, and Wellington were all active in public life; Goethe 
and Lafayette were yet alive; Francis Joseph's grandfather, Emperor Fran- 
cis I, who had been defeated at Austerlitz and Wagram by Napoleon, was 
still reigning. 

The year 1830 saw the first significant break in the legitimist restoration 
which Mettemich had helped impose on Europe, A few weeks before 


Francis Joseph's birth (on August 18, at the castle of Laxenburg, outside 
Vienna) his Bourbon cousin, the diehard Charles X, had been chased off 
the French throne by a bourgeois revolution, but along the banks of the 
Danube, the dikes of Metternichean reaction held as firmly as ever. No 
breath of independent thought was allowed to trouble the provincial still- 
ness that had settled upon the Habsburg lands since 1815. Metternich, it 
was true, did permit one cafe in the capital to keep a few foreign journals 
on its reading racks, but that was purely for the convenience of the police, 
so that they might more easily identify suspect intellectuals (contemporary 
dictatorships, in Central Europe and elsewhere, follow the same practice on 
occasion). The police were efficient; so was the bureaucracy, reorganized 
by Francis I, They were the twin pillars of the dynasty, and the guardians 
of the post-Napoleonic social order. The bourgeoisie of the Empire dozed 
in a snug, tepid Biedermeier world of Sachertorte, Caffee mit Schlag, and 
Schubert's Trout Quintet, while Napoleon's son, the young Duke of Reich- 
stadt, UAiglon of fanatical Bonapartists, was systematically coddled to 
death in the boudoirs of Schoenbrunn Palace. 

There was no coddling, however, for Francis Joseph. He had a Spartan 
bringing up, together with his younger brother, Maximilian (the same Max- 
imilian who was destined to die stupidly and tragically before a firing squad 
in Mexico), in the drafty, smelly old Hofburg, under the vigilant eye of 
their mother, the Archduchess Sophia, a tough, ambitious Wittelsbach, 
without any of the romantic traits for which the Bavarian dynasty was 
later noted. (His father, Archduke Frederick, died early.) Metternich, who 
as president of the council of regency, became the virtual dictator of the 
Empire after the epileptic, intermittently insane Ferdinand I, Francis 
Joseph's uncle, mounted the throne in 1835, personally groomed the young 
Archduke to be the next Emperor. At seventeen his curriculum, in the 
words of one Austrian historian, included, besides the usual classical 
studies, "newspaper reading, Polish, and one hour a week with Prince 

Francis Joseph was not yet eighteen when he was sent off to Italy to get 
a taste of army life. He showed considerable aptitude for it, and when the 
test eventually came bore himself well under fire. It was prophetic that the 
first time he heard bullets whistle around his head or saw men die in combat 
was in action against nationalist revolutionaries. He was serving in northern 
Italy where local patriots, encouraged by a liberal Pope (Pius EX) and 
helped by the armies of the Piedmontese dynasty, the House of Savoy, had 
revolted and driven the Imperial forces out of Venice and Milan. 

This was the fateful year, 1848; invisible but dynamic new pressures had 
been building up under the crust of Metternichean confonnism, and the 
February revolution in France which overthrew the stuffy, bourgeois mon- 
archy of Louis Philippe had touched off a series of political eruptions 


across Europe. In March the Hungarians and the Czechs rose up, demand- 
ing self-government and parliaments of their own. Then insurrection broke 
out in Vienna itself, led by liberal students and supported by most of the 
population. Metternich escaped from the capital hidden in a laundry cart 
and went into exile. Revolution died down momentarily in Austria when 
the puppet Emperor, Ferdinand, granted his subjects freedom of the press 
and promised a constitution, but in May it flared up more violently than 
ever. A Committee of Public Safety took power in Vienna and the Court 
fled to Innsbruck; Francis Joseph, recalled from the Army, rejoined it there. 
Toward the end of the summer the Imperial Family returned to Vienna, but 
a new and bloodier uprising obliged them to take flight again almost imme- 
diately, this time to the old fortress town of Olmutz, in Moravia. 

This humiliating forced retreat in the face of revolution was the final, 
traumatic touch in the political education of the hapless young Archduke 
whom nothing had prepared to understand the great historic movements of 
his day and who was doomed to oppose them all, piling defeat upon de- 
feat, both in his public and in his private life. Momentarily, however, the es- 
cape to Olmutz marked a turning point in the fortunes of the dynasty. 

The Archduchess Sophia, Francis Joseph's mother, became one of the 
chief instigators of the monarchist counterrevolution that steadily gathered 
momentum during the last few months of 1848. "I could have borne the 
loss of one of my children more easily than I can the ignominy of sub- 
mitting to a mess of students," she declared at one critical moment during 
the struggle. She organized an ultraroyalist cabal with two of Metternich's 
most incorrigible disciples, Prince Alfred Windisch-Graetz, the imperial 
commander in Prague who had "restored order" there by bombarding the 
city in violation of the Emperor's promise, and his brother-in-law Prince 
Friedrich Schwarzenberg, an. energetic, stubborn reactionary, whose lack of 
scruple matched his aristocratic contempt for democracy. With her help, 
they succeeded in persuading the feeble, good-natured Ferdinand to abdi- 
cate in favor of his nephew; the youth was not hampered by any promises 
to the revolutionaries that might hamper the task of repression, and the 
"Ultra" clique reasoned, correctly on the whole, that he would be amenable 
to Schwarzenberg's vigorous guidance. 

Planned in secrecy and performed in privacy, the coronation, which took 
place in the gloomy old castle of Olmutz, was not much of a ceremony; 
the atmosphere was less that of a dynastic festival than that of a high-level 
hanging. Francis Joseph, blond and slender and handsome in the romantic 
taste of the day, looked pathetically boyish with the muscles in his narrow, 
stem Habsburg forehead corded to achieve a manly frown, and his pouting 
Habsburg lips drawn into a wan, prim line. Surrounded by whispering rela- 
tives, with Schwarzenberg acting as unofficial master of ceremonies, he knelt 
in front of the silly, kindly old uncle who had been so easily persuaded to 


abdicate. Ferdinand stroked the nervous boy's cheek. "Bear yourself 
bravely/' he said with the insight of inspired idiocy. "It's all right." 

It was a long time, however, before things were all right, even in Schwar- 
zenberg's sense. Revolution had not yet been stamped out in Italy; in 
Hungary it had still to reach its climax. Ferdinand, before his abdication, 
had granted the Hungarians national sovereignty and a liberal constitution. 
Francis Joseph, after his coronation -refused to recognize his predecessor's 
grant, whereupon the Hungarian Diet, galvanized by the Magyar Patrick 
Henry, Lajos Kossuth, in Budapest, refused to recognize him as King of 
Hungary. Windisch-Graetz, with the grudgingly accepted aid of the Croats 
who had caught the fashionable nationalist fever from their Magyar over- 
lords and risen against them, occupied Budapest, but the Hungarian pa- 
triot forces rallied and inflicted a series of sharp defeats upon him; this 
encouraged the Diet to depose the Habsburgs and proclaim total independ- 

Ever since their tribal ancestors rode out of Asia to settle in the flat, 
rich Danubian plain, bringing with them an inextinguishable breath of 
nomad freedom and an unappeasable nomad lust for domination, the Mag- 
yars have been a problem to themselves as well as to their less turbulent 
neighbors. To a greater degree perhaps than any other people in Europe 
their relationship to history has been that of a chronic invalid to his mal- 
ady, an endless alternation of political elation and depression, an infernal 
cycle of martyrdom and imperialism. In 1956 a dim, fragmentary successor 
to the Habsburgs, the Soviet prison warden, Kadar, had to call for Rus- 
sian help to master an ungovernable paroxysm of national feeling that had 
seized his compatriots. In 1848 Francis Joseph, invoking the Holy Al- 
liance, had to call for Russian military help to reconquer his subjects, pos- 
sessed by a similar passion for national freedom, and Nicholas I, like Nikita 
Khrushchev always ready to aid a brother or vassal tyrant in distress, sent 
an army to his succour. 

(With this historic precedent in mind, it is not surprising that Austro- 
Hungarian reactionaries were so disturbed by the 1905 revolution in Russia, 
the ultimate stronghold of reaction,) 

Thanks to the Czar, the Hungarian revolution was quenched by August 
1848; Habsburg rule had already been restored in Venice and Lombardy. 
A new and more bitter frost of repression cut short the precocious "spring- 
time of the peoples." Kossuth escaped to America and successfully trans- 
planted his political idealism in the generous soil of the New World, but 
many other Magyar patriots paid with iheir lives for their love of freedom, 
as they had done before and have done since, and doubtless will do again. 
To suggestions that it would be both magnanimous and expedient to treat 
the Hungarian rebels mercifully, Schwarzenberg replied with aristocratic 
casualness, "Yes, yes, a very good idea, but we must have a bit of hanging 


first." In Habsburg Italy the imperial police again set up its whipping posts, 
and its stolid Teuton or Croatian gendarmes, planted on either side of the 
stage to discourage subversive enthusiasm in the audience once more in- 
furiated Italian opera and theater lovers. The King of Sardinia, Charles Al- 
bert, the father of Italy's future ruler, Victor Emmanuel II, was forced to 
abdicate, and the whole marvelous adventure of the Italian Risorgimento 
set back for a decade but only for a decade. 

With Schwarzenberg's prompting, Francis Joseph drew what he imag- 
ined was the deep lesson of his narrow escape from revolution: the torrents 
of history can be dammed if one is strong and determined enough. He 
thought he had the strength, and he expressed his antirevolutionary de- 
termination on New Year's Day 1852, by proclaiming a new charter for 
the Empire based on unlimited, centralized absolutism, that, with a stroke 
of the pen, wiped out everything his people and peoples had gained in 
two revolutions. The Emperor, by this virtual coup d'etat, not only as- 
sumed for himself the whole weight and power of government, but abol- 
ished all the rights that had existed from time immemorial between the 
monarch and his vassal kingdoms or territories. Metternich himself had 
never dared to go so far. 

Like the suicidal policies of Nicholas II in Russia, Francis Joseph's 
youthful and naive experiment in autocracy illustrates what is perhaps the 
deadliest weapon in the arsenal of revolutionary movements: their ability 
to goad their adversaries into self-slaughtering madness. Ironically, Francis 
Joseph was probably saved from destruction by the very enormity of his 
error. He had so radically misread the whole politico-diplomatic situation 
in Europe that the saber of reaction was wrenched out of his hands before 
he had time to chop off his own head with it. 

"Keep an eye on the Piedmont; it is a hotbed of unwholesome tenden- 
cies," the Emperor once wrote to his brother Maximilian then serving as 
Viceroy in Lombardy. To repress these tendencies before they got out of 
hand again, Francis Joseph in 1859 sent an ultimatum to the government of 
young Victor Emmanuel II demanding, in terms which foreshadow the 
fateful note to Serbia after Sarajevo, that Sardinia and Piedmont disarm- 
no doubt as a prelude to purging them of their unwholesome nationalism. 
The ultimatum was exactly what was desired by Victor Emmanuel's Prime 
Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour, a sophisticated nationalist who had 
read Machiavelli as well as Rousseau. He had a defensive alliance, valid in 
case of Austrian aggression, with France's new Emperor, Napoleon III, a 
nephew of the great Corsican, who possessed both the looks and the men- 
tality of a Mississippi riverboat gambler, and he had been waiting eagerly 
to be aggressed. The eventual clash of the Austro-Hungarian and Franco- 
Italian armies, first at Magenta, then at Solferino, was a low-grade, some- 
what inconclusive, but extremely bloody remake of Bonaparte's Italian epic 


which badly frightened both the opposing Emperors. (Each had taken the 
field at the head of his armies.) Peace was patched up, Lombardy was 
freed from the Austrian yoke (Victor Emmanuel was crowned King of Italy 
two years later), and Francis Joseph returned to Vienna to lick his wounds 
and offer his subjects a liberal-seeming, if not wholly sincere, constitution. 

The twenty-nine-year-old Emperor not only abandoned his experiment in 
personal despotism but for a while even sought to exploit in his own behalf 
the subversive dynamism of the nationalist idea. In 1863 he tried to take 
the head of the movement for German reunification by convoking a diet 
of all the German princes at Frankfurt. The idea of a Habsburg Emperor 
proposing an emasculated, denatured nineteenth-century version of the 
vanished Holy Roman Empire of his ancestors and offering himself as the 
leader of a nationalist new Germany bubbling with the ferment of Marx's 
ideas, not to mention those of Treitschke, was patently ludicrous. It was 
also rashly provocative; the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussia had long since 
staked its claim to play the same unifying role in Germany that the House 
of Savoy was playing in Italy, and the Prussian Chancellor, Prince Otto 
von Bismarck, was determined to settle the question of Germanic hegemony 
by blood and iron. In 1866 he lured Francis Joseph into much the same 
kind of trap that Cavour had laid for him, and declared war. Italy, seeing a 
chance for booty, followed suit. Most of the German princes, including 
Bavaria and a strong Saxon contingent, fought on the Austrian side, but 
the brutally efficient Prussian military machine under the command of 
Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke shattered the Imperial forces near 
Sadowa, in northern Bohemia. 

Defeat cost Francis Joseph Venice and its rich hinterland. ("Is this what 
they made me abdicate for?" exclaimed the old Emperor, Ferdinand, living 
under medical supervision in Prague, when he heard the news. "I could have 
lost those provinces myself.") A far graver humiliation was to see the 
Habsburg dynasty, which, for so many centuries had worn the crown of the 
Holy Germanic Roman Empire, expelled from the Germanic community 
and German unity virtually achieved under the aegis of the victorious 

The blow to the Emperor's prestige would have shaken an empire more 
solid than that of Francis Joseph; Sadowa upset the internal political bal- 
ance within his composite realm no less than that of Europe as a whole. 
The only alternative to revolution and the only hope for effective support 
in an eventual war of revenge against Prussiawas to come to terms with 
the Hungarians, the strongest and most militant of the national minorities. 
The result was the Compromise of 1867 establishing the Dual Monarchy 
a compromise that in reality was an unconditional surrender to Magyar 
imperialism. This fatal accord granted Hungary a constitution that was 
extremely liberal in the privileges it gave the Magyars within the Empire, 


and infamously reactionary in the power it allotted them to establish a 
racial dictatorship over the Rumanians, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Serbs, and 
Croats living inside their historic frontiers. The Serbs and Croats who had 
supported the throne in 1848 felt that the dynasty had betrayed them, and 
said so. In fact, the Ausgleich scrapped the traditional Habsburg policy of 
maintaining the various nationalities of the Empire in a balanced state of 
well-tempered discontent, and substituted the principle of minority rule. 

Francis Joseph had originally intended to promulgate a fairly liberal and 
federalists constitution, within the Austrian half of the Empire, but the 
Hungarians, fearing the contagion, forced him into adopting a centralized 
form of government that confirmed the hegemony of the German ethnic 
group, while theoretically recognizing the equal rights of all nationalities. 
The inevitable effect of this was to alienate the Czechs, and to some de- 
gree the other Slav elements in Austria. 

In the circumstances, democratic constitutional procedures were a dan- 
gerous luxury. Francis Joseph remained convincedwith some justification 
that they could not work anywhere in his Empire, and he put his faith 
in the famous Article 14 he had caused to be written into the Austrian 
constitution, which permitted the Emperor to resort "exceptionally" provi- 
sionally but almost at will, to government by emergency decree without con- 
sulting parliament. The word ausnakmsweise (exceptionally) became the 
key to effective government and the catchword of all satirical doggerels. 
Austria, the wags said, was neither an autocracy nor a democracy, but a 
state of emergency. By 1867 Francis Joseph's political outlook had 
evolved considerably from the reactionary oversimplifications of Schwar- 
zenberg*s day and his character had developed under misfortune, but the 
pattern of failure that dogged his whole long reign had been irrevocably 
established. This was true in his private, no less than in his public life. 

The narrative of Francis Joseph's marriage and family disasters is a hard 
one to tell for several reasons. In the first place it is like mmmaging in an 
attic trunk and coming upon some old albums and love letters of one's 
great-grandparents' day that reveal a forgotten tragedy. One is startled, al- 
most embarrassed, to discover that the vanished beings whose grotesquely 
artificial likenesses stare at us from a faded daguerreotype once suffered 
such authentically contemporary torments; that a crinoline could cover such 
unconventional sorrows; that such a delicate and infinitely painful tender- 
ness could lurk behind a pair of bushy sideburns. Then too, the floods of 
celluloid or pulpy romance inspired by the life and death of Elizabeth of 
Austria, not to mention those inspired by her unhappy son, the Archduke 
Rudolph, have inevitably tended to blur in our minds the features of the 
one genuinely romantic figure in the whole sad story; Francis Joseph him- 

He was twenty-three when he encountered Elizabeth, then sixteen, a 


Wittelsbach, like his mother, and the youngest daughter of the King of 
Bavaria. The young Emperor's amorous well-being had been looked after 
by a succession of hygienic baronesses but none of them had made the 
least impression on his emotions. He fell in love with Elizabeth almost on 
sight. The Archduchess Sophia had planned for her son to marry the eldest 
of the Wittelsbach princesses, but after they came for a visit to Bad Ischl, 
the fashionable watering place in the Salzkammergut, in 1853 and Francis 
Joseph met Elizabeth, there was no question of any other bride for him. 
They made a glamorous couple, the perfect materialization of millions of 
naive young dreams of happiness, including no doubt their own. Elizabeth 
was a beautiful creature, a fine-featured, long-limbed dark-haired girl with 
a straight slender figure that was half a century ahead of fashionable taste. 
Francis Joseph's virile good looks were more conventional, but he wore his 
brilliant officer's uniform with dash; he was a skilled horseman and an ac- 
complished dancer, he had charm and gaiety and easy good manners. 

A gifted, spirited undisciplined child of nature, used to roaming alone 
on horseback across the Bavarian countryside, Elizabeth was a bad risk as 
a Habsburg empress; without training for the exacting job of being a royal 
personage, intoxicated with bad literature, and given to writing gushing 
verse in her diary, she could not adapt herself to the prisonlike Hofburg 
with its implacable etiquette. There were a few years of relative happiness 
with her prince-charming husband, but life at the Court of the Habsburgs 
was no fairy tale and Elizabeth was not emotionally equipped to cope with 
reality, either as Empress or as wife and mother. Francis Joseph, for all his 
love, could not help her. He was full of attention, and eager to grant her 
every wish he even went to the length of instiling an English bathroom in 
the Hofburg for her-but his duties did not leave him enough time for her, 
and he lacked imagination. He does not seem to have learned anything 
really useful from the hygienic baronesses, and like most romantics, was 
probably something of a bore at home. His quality as a lover, like his great- 
ness as a monarch, only revealed itself in adversity. 

Elizabeth was barely twenty-five when she escaped abroad for the first 
time a trip to Madeira on pretext of her health. From then on she culti- 
vated poor health with neurotic intensity, fleeing from one fashionable wa- 
tering place or health resort to another, taking up each new diet-fadshe 
once adopted a curative regime of sand. A kind of royal Madame Bovary 
in her intellectual and artistic pretensions, she was infatuated with sea 
travel, Homeric poetry, psychiatry, and above all, herself. Her neo-Greek 
palace in Corfu, the Achileon, was a monument to escapism and bad taste 
not to mention extravagance, Elizabeth was an early-day parlor-pink 
whose liberalism expressed itself mainly in the prodigality with which she 
squandered the revenues allotted her by her husband and her subjects on 
horses, houses, yachts, doctors, and the gambling tables at Monte Carlo. 


By the time he was forty, Francis Joseph had to admit to himself that the 
only role left for him to play in Elizabeth's life was that of an indulgent 
father toward a willful and capricious daughter. He played it with unflag- 
ging devotion to the last. While Elizabeth pursued her endless travels in 
search of health, youth, and aesthetic experience, Francis Joseph sat un- 
complaining at his desk twelve or fourteen hours a day, snipping the un- 
used blank paper off incoming letters to use as scratchpads (perhaps he 
was trying to compensate for her extravagance), lunching off a tray of 
boiled beef, or goulash or sausages washed down with a glass of pilsner, 
She left the housekeeping and the social aspects of Court life entirely to 
him and he handled them with the same efficiency he displayed in the exe- 
cution of his more official duties. He never forgot a birthday in the family- 
including those in most of Europe's royal familiesand he would notice a 
tarnished button on a coachman's uniform, or a plate set down too 
brusquely by one of the white-wigged footmen at a state banquet. From 
afar he kept a discreet eye on Elizabeth's safety and welfare, respecting her 
mania for incognito in the prosaic, impersonal telegrams: HOW ARE YOU? 


EMBS. His letters to Elizabeth, however, especially those in Hungarian, 
which seems to have been their language of intimacy, were tender and 
wistful, without ever sounding mawkish. 

"Let me also tell you/* he wrote in 1892, "since I cannot show it (and 
you would be bored if I showed it forever) how boundlessly I love you." 

Six years later the Emperor was then sixty-eight and his wife sixty-one 
the old wound was still unhealed, "There is no end to my need of you," 
he wrote. "My thoughts are near you, and with pain do I think of our 
everlasting separation; especially do your vacant, dismantled rooms sadden 

Elizabeth loved the riding and hunting in Hungary; the untamed element 
in the Magyar soul appealed to the strong literary element in hers. More- 
over, the Archduchess Sophia hated the Hungarians, and the Empress de- 
tested her mother-in-law. Those were reasons enough to manifest sympathy 
for Magyar political aspirations, and in so doing, Elizabeth doubtless exer- 
cised a pro-Magyar influence on the Emperor, especially in 1867, at the 
time of the disastrous Compromise. Her main contribution to the broader 
tragedy of our times, however, was a negative one, less ugly and direct 
than that of the Czarina, Nicholas ITs wife, but perhaps no less deadly. 
By depriving her husband of the warmth which, because of the exalted 
loneliness of his official life, he needed even more than other men to develop 
into a complete human being, Elizabeth's essential immaturity condemned 
him increasingly to submerge his private personality into his public one, to 
change from a man into a mask of office. As old age grew upon him, 
Francis Joseph acquired the stiffness, and the imperturbability of the Im- 


penal symbol in a Byzantine mosaic; it was with eyes of gilded marble 
that he gazed down, unseeing and untouched, on the gathering disorder 
of his Empire. 

The meager nourishment for the life of the heart that the old Emperor 
derived from his relationship with his wife was further impoverished by a 
tragic series of losses starting well before the time when longevity begins 
to exact its normal ransom. Their first-born, a daughter, died while the 
Imperial couple were on a state visit to Hungary in the early years of their 
married life. In 1867 Francis Joseph lost the favorite comrade of his boy- 
hood, his younger brother Maximilian, who had inexplicably allowed him- 
self to be lured into one of the more hare-brained political speculations of 
the riverboat gambler in Paris, the tragi-comic "Mexican Empire" spon- 
sored by Napoleon III and paid for, as usual, with other men's blood. Then 
in 1889 the heir to the throne, Francis Joseph's son, Rudolph, was found 
dead in the hunting lodge of Mayerling, beside the corpse of his seventeen- 
year-old mistress, Baroness Marie Vetsera. All sorts of hypotheses have 
been put forward to account for this obscure and scandalous tragedy; the 
most likely explanation is that it was in fact a double suicide, but that on 
Rudolph's side the motivation was not purely sentimental. He was an in- 
tellectual with a bold, free mind, a liberal, if not an out-and-out revolution- 
ary, and like his mother, he could not bear life in the Hofburg. Whatever 
the real story of his death, the shock of it was all the worse for the old Em- 
peror because it followed shortly after a stormy father-and-son scene, 
provoked by Rudolph's desire to divorce his wife, the Belgian Princess 
Stephanie, in order to marry his mistress. 

The crowning bereavement for Francis Joseph, of course, was the death 
of Elizabeth, stabbed, for purely symbolic reasons, by an Italian anarchist 
as she was about to step aboard a paddle-wheel excursion steamer on the 
Lake of Geneva in 1898. The Emperor sobbed when he heard the news. 
"The world will never know how much we loved each other," he is reported 
to have said. On another occasion, in a rare fit of self-pity, he gloomily 
remarked, "I am a pechvogel" (a bird of misfortune) . It was hardly an 

Naturally, Francis Joseph's existence was not unrelieved tragedy from 
adolescence to senility; there were some consolations. In the last quarter- 
century of his life one of the most important was a plump, comely retired 
actress named Katharina von Schratt. It was Elizabeth herself who intro- 
duced Katharina to the Emperor, and eventually installed her as the com- 
panion of his old age, one of those wise, wintry accommodations with life 
that are something of a Viennese specialty; it was one of the few kind 
things Elizabeth ever did for her husband. Katharina had a cheerful un- 
complicated nature that thrived on mehlspeisen and operetta; Elizabeth 
preferred raw carrots and Heine. The two women were good friends how- 


ever and had one trait in common: their extravagance. Though Katharina 
came high, at least she gave good value; she appears to have had a genuine 
affection for her venerable admirer, and showered him with tangible me- 
mentos of it. They included a music box that warbled like a nightingale 
when wound up-the delight of the Emperor's grandchildren on their fre- 
quent visits to his study and a little mirror framed with the words Portrait 
de la Personne que faime (Portrait of the one I love) which always stood 
on his desk. 

The garden of Katharina's little Biedermayer villa near the Maximilian 
Platz conveniently opened on the Imperial park of Schoenbrunn, and Fran- 
cis Joseph walked over almost daily to have breakfast with her, particularly 
after Elizabeth's death. By the time he arrived the mistress of the house 
would be out of curlers, dressed and smiling-though Francis Joseph in- 
variably got up at five and the coffeepot would be steaming next to a 
bouquet of fresh flowers on the breakfast table. While the Emperor drank 
his coffee from a cup of fine old porcelain and munched on his kipferl, 
Katharina put him in a good humor for the day with Viennese gossip and 
small, domestic talk. She was a daughter of the sun; if she had also been 
the daughter of a king and Francis Joseph had met her thirty years earlier, 
the course of European history might have been different. 

Apart from his visits to Katharina Schratt, Francis Joseph had only one 
relaxation hunting. In the corridors of the nondescript yellow two-story 
villa at Bad Ischl where he spent his summers are 2200 mounted and 
tagged trophies of big game killed by the Emperor the last one dated 1911, 
when he was eighty-one. He was a real hunter though, not a mere butcher 
of game like his nephew Archduke Francis Ferdinand or the German 
Kaiser. Nearly every day at Ischl the old gentleman he was one in every 
sense of the term would rise before dawn, put on his well-worn Tyrolean 
lederhosen (it was rumored that he had his valet wear them for several 
years to break them in for him), his knee socks, his boots, and an old felt 
hat, and creep downstairs to avoid waking his daughters and grandchil- 
dren. He would clamber around the surrounding mountains with a game- 
keeper as his only companion until eleven o'clock, then settle down at his 
desk for the rest of the day. Work was his most reliable antidote for the 
sorrows and frustrations of his life. 

Francis Joseph had the knack of splendor but no taste for the artificial 
glitter of Court life. A state banquet at the Hofburg during his reign was an 
awesome ordeal for the guests. The magnificence of the uniforms and fur- 
nishings, the perfectly trained lackeys, the historic plate and crystal, the 
famous wines, the great blazing chandeliers (according to Eugene Bagger, 
one of the Emperor's biographers, their periodic crashing was the regretted 
but accepted cause of frequent casualties), made even the haughtiest royal 
visitors feel like parvenus. Since Francis Joseph did not believe in wasting 


time over his food, and detested small talk, he had trained the palace staff 
to serve and clear away a twelve-course dinner in less than an hour. A new 
course was served the moment the Emperor finished his plate, and guests 
at the bottom of the table were likely to have theirs whisked away before 
they had taken a mouthful. On army maneuvers the imperial table etiquette 
was simpler but even more Spartan. Once when Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had 
been invited to attend an important Austro-Hungarian field exercise, asked 
the Imperial Chief of Staff if he might have some champagne with his meals, 
Francis Joseph indignantly forbade it. "Not a drop," he growled, "let him 
drink beer." 

In Austria the Emperor was the effective head of the government as well 
as the chief of state and commander-in-chief of the army; Francis Joseph's 
rule has been described as one of latent absolutism, and he was shrewd 
enough to preserve the element of latency whenever possible. He had some 
gift for administration, and unlike Nicholas II was not unwilling or afraid 
to delegate authority. The ramshackle political structure of the Empire, 
however, made it difficult to establish orderly channels of administration 
or efficient mechanism of co-ordination and control. As the Emperor aged, 
he inevitably lost touch with the increasingly complex problems of govern- 
ment, and real power slipped out of his hands into those of irresponsible 
bureaucrats governing in his name; the once admirable Austro-Hungarian 
military and civilian bureaucracy fell into a feudal anarchy of warring 
cliques or services, largely free from either democratic or autocratic con- 
trols. The consequences, as we shall see in a later chapter, were particularly 
grave in the fields of foreign and defense policy, but they were also dis- 
astrously felt in the domestic sphere. 

Francis Joseph was too much of a Habsburg to identify himself exclu- 
sively with either the German or the Magyar ruling classes in his Empire; 
the master race to him was his own family. Autocracy seemed to him a 
sound principle, but he did not have a religious feeling about it, as Nicholas 
II did; what counted was maintaining the position of the dynasty. In all 
dynastic matters, small or great, the Emperor's policy was strict conformity 
to tradition. He humorlessly insisted that the guards on duty at the Imperial 
Palace present arms every time a carriage bearing a baby Archduke with 
a nursemaid entered or left the grounds. He tried to forbid Francis Ferdi- 
nand's morganatic marriage as he had forbidden Rudolph's divorce, and 
when the marriage eventually did take place, he permitted his courtiers to 
snub and humiliate the wife of the heir to the throne, even after he had 
reluctantly conferred the title of Duchess of Hohenberg on her. For a 
Habsburg to marry a commoner was a sin against the dynasty in the old 
Emperor's eyes, and the wages of sin had to be paid. In such matters he 
was a fanatic and a tyrant 

On the broader issues of national policy, including the crucial question 


of the "minorities/' Francis Joseph could on occasion show himself ex- 
tremely flexible. He was not too stubborn to make concessions to the de- 
veloping national conscience of the peoples over whom he ruled; what he 
lacked was a political concept for reconciling their conflicting aspirations 
which the dynasty could champion, as it had once championed the concept 
of Christian unity in Europe. In this respect the rift between the Emperor 
and his heir which was also a rift in the Court, in the administration, and 
in the Army caused by Francis Ferdinand's marriage was doubly unfortu- 
nate for the Empire. 

The case that some present-day Habsburg apologists make for Francis 
Ferdinand as an enlightened spirit who, if he had not been struck down by 
Balkan fanatics, might have transformed the Empire into the prototype 
of a supranational European community, does not seem wholly convincing; 
his character was probably too autocratic and his temper too reactionary 
to play such a role. He had an alert mind, however, and he unquestionably 
recognized the need for some radical solution to the nationalities problem. 
The little brain trust he gathered about him in his shadow cabinet at the 
Belvedere Palace included several bold and original thinkers. Under their 
influence the Archduke had once championed the cause of "Trialism" 
the idea of converting the Dual Monarchy into a union of three national 
states, one of which would be created, largely at the expense of Hungary, 
by a partial liberation of the South Slavs. Later Francis Ferdinand came to 
the conclusion that this formula was inadequate as well as impractical, 
and, according to his admirers, was groping his way toward the concept of 
a democratic, multinational federation of equals, a true United States of 
Austria-Hungary, which if it could have been realized, would have saved 
the Habsburgs not to mention Europe. 

How far the Archduke really got in his intellectual gropings is immaterial. 
He was doubtless headed in the right general direction, but the old Em- 
peror was not prepared to accept his errant and arrogant nephew, a mere 
whippersnapper in his forties, as a guide. Apart from personal considera- 
tions, Francis Joseph did not believe in experimenting with political 
novelties like federalism. It never occurred to him that in the ancient supra- 
national tradition of his family he possessed, albeit in raw and imperfect 
form, an ultramodern antidote to the toxins of modern nationalism. He 
put his faith in the tried and tested and unfailingly calamitous nostrums 
of cautious expediency; a dram of repressive firmness, an ounce of gracious 
concession, a pinch of genteel trickery. It was in this spirit that the aged 
autocrat, confronted as we have seen earlier with the threat of Magyar 
separatism and harassed by left-wing agitation for electoral reform, hit on 
the idea of playing Austrian Socialists against Hungarian reactionaries and 
thereby inadvertently set in motion forces which were destined to plunge 
the last years of his reign into growing turmoil. 


A few years before the war, an American journalist living in Vienna, 
Wolf von Schierbrand, attended a session of the Austrian Reichsrat (par- 
liament) which, though it was by no means exceptional, left an indelible 
impression on his mind. In his entertaining and useful book, Austria- 
Hungary: Polyglot Empire, he gives the following description of the pre- 
posterous scene: 

". . . the bulk of the 500 delegates or thereabouts whom I saw on enter- 
ing the press gallery looked and behaved like a band of madmen. It was a 
question about the rights and privileges of one of the eight officially recog- 
nized 'national tongues/ I think it was Ruthenian, that had brought them 
all to such a fearful pitch . . . This is what burst upon my astonished view: 
About a score of men, all decently clad, were seated or standing each at 
his little desk. Some made infernal noise, violently opening and shutting 
the lids of these desks. Others emitted a blaring sound from little toy trum- 
pets; others strummed jews-harps; still others beat snare drums. And at 
their head, like a bandmaster, stood a gray-bearded man of about 65, 
evidently the leader of this wilful faction, directing the whole pandemonium 
in volume and tempo . . . 

"I was told that not only this Ruthenian fraction, but every other in the 
Reichsrat as well, in its fraction and committee rooms had stowed in a 
locked and safe place a complete assortment of such instruments of torture 
whistles and sleigh bells, mouth harmonicas, cow bells and trombones 
. . ." (Other authorities include hunting-horns.) 

Nationalist agitation and interracial friction were not new phenomena in 
the Habsburg Empire. All during the nineteenth century the ferment of 
nationalism had been working more and more intensely in ever-wider lay- 
ers of the population. The Crown itself, practicing the classic imperial 
strategy of divide and rule, had more than once encouraged the trend by 
granting special concessions to ethnic groups, like the Czechs or the Mag- 
yars, who were strong enough to make serious trouble, or who, like the 
Poles in Galicia, were willing to act as Imperial Janizaries. Maintaining a 
constant, controlled strain between the different "minorities" was an ancient 
Habsburg tradition. After 1907, however, the situation got completely out 
of hand; Austria-Hungary was never quite the "prison of peoples" that 
hostile propagandists called it, but in the last years before the war it turned 
bit by bit into a madhouse of nationalities. 

Though there were deeper reasons for this development, the universal 
suffrage law decided on by Francis Joseph in 1905 and finally put into 
effect in 1907 was a major factor. (It is by no means the only instance in 
history of a despotism undoing itself with reform.) In Hungary the threat 
of honest elections heightened the tension between the dominant Magyars 
and the subject races. In Austria the sudden enfranchisement of the illiterate 


peasant masses opened up a new Golconda to demagogic exploitation. The 
chronic tumult in parliament was one of its fruits. 

All things considered, there was surprisingly little separatist sentiment in 
the Dual Monarchy. The chief exceptions, perhaps, were to be found in 
the Germanic "majority" itself; the followers of Georg von Schonerer and 
similar demagogues wanted the break-up of the Empire and an Austrian 
Anschluss with Hohenzollern Germany. Most of the "minorities" preferred 
putting up with the slovenly paternalism of Habsburg rule to being absorbed 
in either the German or the Russian empires. For a long time there seemed 
to be no other feasible alternatives. Between 1905 and 1914, however, 
there occurred several new developments in Europe, which, among other 
effects, had a revolutionary impact on the nationalities problem in Austria- 
Hungary (and which in turn were influenced by it) . The time has come to 
turn to the southeast, picking up the winding Balkan road that finally led to 


Sick Man's Legacy 

worm-eaten Ottoman dynasty was the first of the great 
autocracies still standing in twentieth-century Europe to go 
down before the winds of change, and the resultant crash was more fateful 
than most contemporary observers realized. Today, in the wake of all the 
tempests and upheavals the world has witnessed since, we can better gauge 
the importance of the event. Though the monarchy was not formally abol- 
ished in Turkey until after the Great War, the overthrow of the absolutist 
regime there dates back to 1908. On July 23 of that year Sultan Abdul 
Hamid II, in a desperate, eventually futile attempt to save his throne, 
yielded to an ultimatum from a junta of military revolutionaries the so- 
called Young Turksand proclaimed a constitution. The reform brought 
about a real transfer of power that for all practical purposes put an end to 
seven centuries of Oriental, semitheocratic despotism in an empire, once 
the largest West of the Great Wall, which still stretched astride three con- 
tinents from the Danube to the Indian Ocean, and from the Caucasus to 
the shores of Tripoli. 

Modern Turkey understandably solemnizes the anniversary of July 23, 
1908, as a great national holiday; for somewhat different reasons the date 
should be underscored in the calendar of our own historic outlook. Reading 
over the accounts of Western eyewitnesses who were present at the time in 
Constantinople (Istanbul), the ancient capital of the Byzantine emperors 
taken over by their Ottoman conquerors and successors, one has the feel- 
ing of reliving one of those moments of lucid pathos that often usher in an 
age of revolutionary turmoil, when for a brief span history seems to break 
free from the gravitational pull of destiny, and events retain only the inertia 
of innocence. Such a moment, for instance, was the famous Night of the 


Fourth of August (1789) at the outset of the French Revolution, when the 
delegates of the nobility sitting in the Constituent Assembly spontaneously 
renounced their hereditary privileges. It was a similar eruption of hope, 
reason, fraternity, and reform, lasting for several days, that occurred in 
Istanbul in July 1908. 

As soon as the newspapers carrying the Imperial proclamation appeared 
on the streets in the early morning of July 24lighthearted throngs, as if 
wakening from a nightmare of centuries, began to gather on the Galatea 
Bridge across the Golden Horn, and in the heart of Stambul, the city's 
original Byzantine nucleus. "Men and women in a common wave of 
enthusiasm, moved on radiating something extraordinary, laughing, weep- 
ing," a witness reported. "The motley rabble, the lowest pariahs, were go- 
ing about in a sublime emotion, with tears running down their unwashed 
faces, the shop-keepers joining the procession without any concern for 
their goods." 

In those days Istanbul, a disheveled but gleaming cluster of cities and 
suburbs scattered between Europe and Asia along the hilly shores of the 
Bosporus and the inland Sea of Marmora, was still the seat of government 
to a vast empire. Then as now, it was a fascinating jumble of East and 
West, of seediness and magnificence, but no doubt it was both more Orien- 
tal and more opulent than it is today. Along with the slender needles of its 
minarets and the domes of its mosques, there was more of the slatternly 
grace of the old Turkish quarters, spared by fire and progress, with their 
tall, narrow houses jutting over cobblestone streets, and their windows 
grilled with blue or green wooden lattice work. The street scene, even on 
normal days, was a vivid and exotic human tapestry, as it could hardly fail 
to be in the capital of an empire almost wholly made up of "minorities" at 
every stage of cultural development, ranging from the fierce Druse tribes- 
men of the Lebanon mountains or the desert Bedouins in their ragged, 
flowing robes, through the swarthy Anatolian peasant in his billowing 
trousers the only authentic Turk of them allto the slightly caricatural 
Paris or London elegance of the cosmopolitan aristocracy. Rarely could all 
these contrasts have been gaudier than they were on this day of cloudless 
revolution. The crowds were particularly thick around the Sublime Porte, 
the huge tasteless marble block that then housed the key ministries of the 
government (it has since been largely destroyed by fire) and in the square 
of Aya Sophia, the temple of the Holy Wisdom, the foremost basilica of 
Eastern Christendom and to Christian subjects of the Empire the symbol 
of a never-healed historic traumatism erected in the sixth century on the 
foundations of Constantine's original church, converted since 1453 into a 
Moslem mosque. From every convenient vantage point young officer- 
agitators with the white and red cockade of liberty pinned to the tunics of 
their Prussian-style uniforms harangued the people in the name of the revo- 


lutionary society calling itself the Committee of Union and Progress which 
had risen up against the Imperial authority a few weeks earlier in Macedo- 
nia and progressively won over the military forces sent to crush the revolt. 
Intoxicated with their own generous enthusiasms, the military revolutionar- 
ies promised freedom, brotherhood, and equality "under the same blue sky" 
for all the Sultan's subjects in a reborn Ottoman national commonwealth. 

There was no fighting, nor any disorder, except of the joyful sort, and 
in the general euphoria even the self-deposed tyrant, miraculously trans- 
formed into an enlightened Western-style constitutional monarch, tempo- 
rarily recovered the popularity forfeited in the course of a thirty-two-year 
reign marked by an unbroken succession of humiliating national defeats, 
by countless foreign and domestic treacheries, and by dreadful excesses of 
bloodsoaked repression. Abdul Hamid's career is an interesting example 
of political nature seemingly trying to imitate journalistic art; long known 
to newspaper readers of the West as The Red Sultan, Abdul the Damned, 
or the Ogre of Yildiz, Abdul Hamid, in so far as he was a monster at all, 
was a monster of apprehensiveness rather than of cruelty, but from the 
viewpoint of his unfortunate subjects he might as well have been Bluebeard 
or Caligula. His pathological dread of assassination had led him more than 
once in blind panic to shoot down inmates of his palace with the little 
pearl-handled automatic that never left his person (he always handled it 
expertly even when he was too frightened to think straight) and he had 
just as delusively, if more coolly, ordered the appalling massacre of Arme- 
nians some 86,000 of them by the most conservative countsuspected of 
mass disloyalty. Despite these and many other horrors that lay between the 
Sultan and his people, a crowd of sixty thousand of them on July 26 
stormed the gates of Yildiz Kiosk, the strange fortress-palace-menagerie on 
a hill above the city, looking out across the narrowing of the waters toward 
the shores of Asia not to lynch the aged ex-despot, but to acclaim him. 
When Abdul Hamid appeared on the balcony, looking shrunken and owl- 
like in his gold-encrusted state uniform, with his great beaked nose, his 
dark, fevered eyes, his cheeks carefully rouged as usual and his beard dyed 
the traditional red, the crowd greeted him with hysterical devotion; men 
sobbed and wept as the Sultan who notoriously had never kept a promise 
in his life swore to uphold the constitution which the army had forced him 
at gunpoint to accept three days earlier. 

It must have been a curious spectacle, but no less extraordinary and 
colorful scenes were taking place at the time everywhere throughout the 
capital, in fact throughout much of the sprawling Euro-Afro-Asian Empire 
whose jumble of antagonistic races, religions, and cultures made Austria- 
Hungary by comparison look almost homogeneous (just as the archaic, 
corrupt Ottoman administrative institutions made those of the Dual Mon- 
archy seem modern, dynamic, and even rational). << Murder ceased," noted 


a contemporary European observer, "there was no thieving . . . Pacifists, 
idealists, and some others had flocked from all over Europe to see the 
vulture turn into a dove of peace." Age-old intercommunal hatreds that 
Abdul Hamid and Ms predecessors for centuries back had nurtured with 
deft, devoted hands, convinced that universal spite and suspicion were the 
surest cornerstones of empire, seemed to evaporate like miasmas of the 
night Some of the examples cited by contemporary witnesses appear even 
more remarkable in retrospect than they did at the time, Jews and Arabs 
publicly embraced; Christian Armenians, an ancient, once-independent 
people of Asia Minor, exchanged the kiss of forgiveness with Moslem Kurds 
who a few years earlier had been incited to slaughter them; Phanariot 
Greeks, descendants of Constantinople's original Byzantine population, 
fraternally clasped the descendants of their Turkish conquerors not to 
mention their hardly-less-hated Bulgar or Macedonian fellow Christians 
from the uoliberated Balkans. Turkish officers in uniform attended a Re- 
quiem Mass for the victims of the Armenian massacres. 

All had been subjects, that is virtually slaves, of the Ottoman autocracy, 
and it was in the name of all that the young officers of the Committee of 
Union and Progress, nominally Turkish Moslems for the most part, actually 
free-thinkers steeped in the ideas of the French Revolution preserved, like 
flies in amber, in the traditions of the European Masonic lodges of Salonika 
and the capital had risen up against their common secular master, the 
Sultan, who was at the same time the Caliph of Islam, the successor of the 
Prophet Mohammed, and as such the Shadow of God on Earth to 300,- 
000,000 orthodox Moslems throughout the world. The real paradox was 
much deeper, graver, and more complex than that, however. 

For centuries the Ottoman despotism had been an inflamed tumor in 
the sensitive underbelly of Europe. The processes of retraction and internal 
decay had gradually transformed it during the nineteenth century into a 
kind of localized malignancy painful, debilitating, but not immediately 
fatal. In applying to it the rough surgery of military revolution, the Young 
Turks of 1908 achieved a temporary relief expressed in the naive popular 
rejoicings during the July days in Constantinople but provoked a deadly 
metastasis that helped to bring about the vast and multiple revolutionary 
disorders the world has since experienced. Before attempting to analyze this 
process it will be useful to trace some of the main channels of Ottoman 
history and to consider more closely the personal role of Abdul Hamid, one 
of destiny's most sinister, but curious and pitiable instruments. 

By certain reckonings, the House of Osraan, which ruled the Ottoman 
Empire (Ottoman is a corruption of Osman) from its foundation in 1288 
to its end in 1922, is the longest-lived dynasty known to history. The claim 
involves some semantic complications, but the 634-year lifespan of the 


empire itself is impressive by any count. For centuries it was the world's 
largest power in its heyday it held substantial remnants of the ancient em- 
pires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, Rome, and Byzan- 
tiumand in a military sense it was for long periods the most formidable 
one. It was also one of the oddest, though not most attractive, human 
polities ever to exercise wide-spread and lasting dominion. 

Like the Habsburgs, the Osmanlis never put down firm national roots. 
Osman I (1258-1325), who founded the dynasty, belonged to a Turkish- 
speaking tribe of people that had recently migrated from Central Asia to 
settle in Anatolia (the Asiatic core of modern Turkey), up against the 
Byzantine frontier, as vassals of the neighboring Seljuks, the more civilized 
descendants of earlier Turkish invaders, who then ruled in Bagdad. The 
hulking but sclerotic empire of Christian Byzantium was both a permanent 
menace and a permanent temptation to the weaker, though more warlike, 
Moslem societies on its southern flank. Need and greed combined to de- 
velop in the Anatolian marches bands of Moslem ghazis fighters for the 
Faith who were at the same time part brigands and part mercenary border 
guards. Osman inherited one of these crude fighting machines from his 
father. No doubt it was composed to a considerable measure of his own 
kinsmen but it also included many recruits from the more settled Islamic 
lands. As Osman and his successors extended their conquests, they attracted 
or pressed into service new recruits often hasty and purely nominal con- 
verts to Islam from the subject populations, thereby intensifying both the 
cosmopolitan, or colonialist, and the secular character of their armies; the 
Ottoman Empire that came into being increasingly took the shape of a 
supranational power system ostensibly dedicated to the propagation of 
Islam, but essentially concerned with the aggrandizement of its own chiefs 
and cadres. 

From a brotherhood of free warriors, the Ottoman hierarchy turned into 
a slave society that anticipated by centuries certain aspects of contemporary 
totalitarianism. It recruited its members by simply taking them from their 
parents usually Christian in early childhood and subjecting them to a 
conditioning process of almost Pavlovian ruthlessness which simultaneously 
castrated them of their humanity and trained them for specific functions 
in the state. Those with military aptitudes were sent to the corps of Jani- 
zaries, the shock troops of the Ottoman armies, and for several centuries 
probably the most dreaded fighting force in the world. The intellectuals 
were trained for the civil service, the court, and the government. 

Such a system works, as we know from examples much closer to us, 
but it also has drawbacks that contemporary admirers of totalitarian effi- 
ciency would do well to study. By the early nineteenth century the admirable 
Janizaries had become a permanent menace to the throne that employed 
them and a reformist sultan Abdul Hamid's grandfather, Mahmud after 


vain attempts to impose discipline, ordered the whole corps put to death 
its strength at that time was about 25,000 men. As for the civil service, 
whose efficiency for long was unmatched by any in the West, by the early 
twentieth century it had become a byword for corruption, laziness, and 
disloyalty. The rise of Ottoman power was, of course, swifter and more 
spectacular than its decline. Orkhan (1326-1359), the son of the dynasty's 
founder, exploited factional strife in the Byzantine Empire to gain himself 
a solid bridgehead on the European shore of the Dardanelles. In 1389 the 
destruction of Serbian power on the famous field of Kossovo opened most 
of southeastern Europe to the Ottoman invaders. In 1453 the Sultan Mo- 
hammed II, the Conqueror (1451-1481), stormed Constantinople, then 
defeating Venice, the great naval power of the Eastern Mediterranean, 
overran Albania and Bosnia; he also seized the Crimea and the adjacent 
Black Sea coasts. With the occupation of Constantinople and the extinc- 
tion of the Paleologus dynasty, the Ottoman Empire became the political 
heir of Byzantium and took over many of its administrative institutions, 
along with the refinements and the vices of Byzantine civilization. (The 
so-called Turkish bath, for example, was actually the Byzantine version of 
a Roman institution.) The high-water mark of Ottoman expansion was 
reached in the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent (1520- 
1566) and his successors, when much of Central Europe, practically all of 
Greece and the Greek Islands, vast tracts in southern Russia, and North 
Africa, as far west as Algiers, fell under the Ottoman sway. 

Today the traveler in Greece and the Balkan countries easily identifies 
the cities and the villages which remained until the threshold of the twentieth 
century under Ottoman rule by the lingering atmosphere of Oriental squalor 
and lethargy, "like dirt ringing an old bath-tub," that still marks them. It 
was the long night of Turkish colonialism, one of the deep traumatisms of 
European history, that bred the nightmare-politics of the Balkan peninsula; 
the flashes at Sarajevo were among the fatal discharges of tensions of hatred 
built up over the centuries between oppressors and victims, between the 
various rival clans of native traitors and avengers. The Ottoman yoke does 
not always seem to have lain harshly on the Christian peoples of Europe- 
some welcomed it in preference to Venetian corruption or indigenous an- 
archybut it was nearly always stultifying to them. This was particularly 
true during the last two or three centuries of the empire when the gradual 
decay of Ottoman dynasty chained its subject peoples to a political corpse. 

Starting in the seventeenth century, the Habsburg and Romanov empires, 
with their stronger technological and political bases, began to push back 
the Ottoman frontiers. Then, following the French Revolution, came the 
Nationalist awakening in Europe. Greece was the first to revolt against 
Ottoman rule, followed by the resurgent kingdom of Serbia. Throughout 
the rest of the nineteenth century the Balkans were in constant revolution- 


ary ferment. Even the Christian Armenians of Asiatic Turkey began to 
stir. France and England, in the hot flush of colonial expansion, took over 
respectively Algeria and Egypt, though the latter remained nominally for 
a time under Ottoman suzerainty. By the middle of the century ambitious 
politicians in Moscow and Vienna were sure that the fairest fruit of all 
control of the straits was ripe for the plucking. 

This fabulous waterway that divides Europe from Asia has been an ob- 
jective of warfare back to the period when history is indistinguishable 
from legend. Jason passed through the straits on his way to the Caucasus 
in search of the fleeces in the plural which the Caucasians suspended in 
mountain torrents to trap the flakes of gold the streams deposited on them. 
It was not a face which launched a thousand ships, and burned the topless 
towers of Dion, but the desire of the Achaean trader-pirates to penetrate 
into the Black Sea, barred to them as long as Troy remained in the basin 
of the Sea of Marmora. The Sea of Marmora, indfeed, is a natural prison 
for shipping, which could not have been better designed for the purpose of 
permitting a nation holding both its European and Asiatic banks to control 
absolute passage through this strategic bottleneck. Almost landlocked, it is 
entered through two narrow straits. From the Aegean, the entrance is 
through the Dardanelles the swimmable Hellespont of the ancients run- 
ning along the peninsula of Gallipoli on the European side, where archae- 
ologists have located the capital of the Trojan kingdom. From the Black 
Sea, the entrance is througjb. the somewhat shorter Bosporus, so narrow it 
can be closed by chains, and not enough of an obstacle to prevent Euro- 
pean Istanbul and Asiatic Scutari from being parts of the same city. Run- 
ning these two gauntlets by ruse or surprise is virtually impossible. 

The international importance of the straits was intensified when modern 
Russia came into being, "From the moment that Russia achieved some- 
thing of political unity/' the British historian Marriott wrote, "from the 
moment she realized her economic potentialities, the question of access to 
the Black Sea, of free navigation on its waters, and free egress from them 
into the Mediterranean became not merely important, but paramount," 

Free passage of the straits became vital to Russia, whose great water- 
ways of the Dniester, the Don, the Bug, and the Kuban empty into the 
Black Sea, when the Ukraine was converted from grazing country into one 
of the world's richest granaries. Practically all of the grain exported from 
this region went through the straits, and enough other exports as well, so 
that on the eve of World War I 60 per cent of Russia's outgoing seaborne 
trade passed this way, which meant 45 per cent of all the exports of the 
Russian Empire. But if control of the straits was vital for Russia, it was 
vital also to those who wished to hold her in check. The Marquis de 
Caulaincourt suggested to Napoleon that in view of Russia's predominance 
of interests there, she might be permitted to hold the Dardanelles. "Con- 


stantinoplel" Napoleon cried. "Never! That means the empire of the 

Napoleon was doubtless exaggerating, but to nineteenth-century di- 
plomacy it seemed clear that for any one of the great European powers to 
get control of the Straits would upset the always precarious European 
balance; only the most elaborate system of compensations and safeguards 
for the others could avert war in such a case. The danger of Austro-Russian 
rivalry for possession of the straits leading to a major conflict was con- 
sidered especially grave. The easiest way to avoid trouble was evidently, 
therefore, to leave the "Sick Man of Europe" as the British statesman 
Gladstone had once termed the Ottoman Empire in possession of the vital 
passage. This implied an unspoken gentlemen's agreement among the great 
powers after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 it was formalized in some 
measure by the Treaty of Berlin to confine their plundering of the in- 
valid's estate to such peripheral tidbits as Bosnia or Egypt, and to refrain 
from asserting any too-exclusive claims of predominant influence over the 

There were two weak spots in this otherwise sensible understanding. 
One is that it put extreme demands on the self-restraint of the great pow- 
ers, who from time to time could not resist the temptation of seeking 
through intrigue or violence to enhance their interests in the Ottoman Em- 
pire at the expense of their rivals. The Ottoman rulers, especially Abdul 
Hamid, aggravated the tensions thus generated by systematically playing 
off one Western nation against another. An even greater threat to the 
status quo along the straits, upon which the tranquillity of Europe de- 
pended, was the dry rot eating away the basic structures of the Empire. 

Like the Byzantine emperors before them, but to an even more extreme 
degree, the Ottoman dynasty ruled over a political conglomerate of semi- 
detached protectorates and unassimilated ethnic minorities. From Byzan- 
tium, long the victim of Western European colonialist penetration, the 
Ottomans had inherited the so-called millet system of quasi-autonomous 
foreign colonies, originally planted by contemporary European powers like 
Venice, Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa, Ancona, and Narbonne, each with its own 
churches, schools, and courts administered by governors from the home 
countries. The Turks continued this system of special regimes for minority 
communities and extended it to large new units like the Greeks in Turkey 
proper. Suleiman the Magnificent even signed a treaty with Francis I of 
France according similar privileges to the latter's subjects. Besides creating 
precedents for various European powers later to appoint themselves the 
protectors of racial groups inside the Ottoman frontiers, as the Russians 
were fond of doing on behalf of the Bulgars and other Balkan Slavs, the 
millet system doubtless played a major role in preventing the different peo- 
ples of the empire from eventually knitting together into a singje nation. 


On the other hand, the tolerance which the Ottoman sultans manifested 
toward Christian and other minorities in their empire did not go quite 
deep enough for it to evolve into a multi-racial commonwealth. The reef 
on which brotherhood constantly splintered was the dynasty's traditional 
policy of exploiting Islam for political ends by combining the sultanate and 
the caliphate in one office. Claiming the Moslem title of the Shadow of 
God on Earth while acting as the secular head of an empire in which the 
Christian "minorities" outnumbered the Moslem "majority" was not merely 
an anomaly but a congenital blunder. It not only antagonized the Chris- 
tians but it delivered the Sultans more or less completely depending on 
how seriously they took their roles as Caliph-into the hands of the ulemas, 
the traditionalist and professionally fanatical Moslem priesthood. 

Perhaps the most striking symbol of Ottoman decadence and the actual 
root of much of it was the sultanate's harem system. In the morning of 
the empire the unveiled Turkish women were the free and respected com- 
panions of their warrior-husbands. With the accumulation of wealth based 
on conquest, they gradually changed from partners into luxuries, and fi- 
nally into luxury-objects. The superabundance of female slaves that were 
one of the prized spoils of war led to a kind of erotic inflation; the Sultans, 
and their principal warlords acquired increasingly imposing retinues of 
concubines, and the harem came into being. At first it was no doubt both 
a useful and from the owner's viewpoint an agreeable institution; it pro- 
vided distraction for the Sultans while adding splendor to their reigns and 
serving as an inspiration to their captains. Bit by bit, however, the con- 
spicuous-consumption principle, and the absolute-dominion principle got 
out of control, as they are apt to do in all societies, and the harem turned 
into a social cancer that eventually devoured both the ruler and the realm. 
Byzantium, of course, made its contribution to the social hypertrophy of 
the harem, many of whose more elaborate rituals can be traced back to 
the Gynasceum of the Byzantine emperors. Some of the most exotic harem 
functionaries-for example the Master of the Girls, the Keeper of the Par- 
rots, and the Chief Nightingale Keeper were copied from Byzantine origi- 
nals, and reflect the Byzantine talent for making even luxury as complicated 
as possible. 

From about the fourteenth century onward, the Osmanlis no longer 
legally married their queens who thus ceased to be queens and depended 
alike for their pleasure and for their posterity upon their slaves, thereby 
completing their own enslavement. Suleiman, it is true, did go through a 
ceremony of marriage with one of his slaves, the Christian Khurrem, more 
widely known as Roxellana, but the exception aggravated as well as con- 
firmed the rule. Roxellana's domination of her master launched the 150- 
year "Reign of Women" in Turkish history. 

In a more institutional sense, for a good many centuries the harem con- 


turned to rule the Empire. For the Sultans, it became the main setting of 
their lives. It forged a chain about them in infancy, which most of them 
were never able to break. The job of fighting had been turned over to mer- 
cenaries, the job of thinking and governing to foreign-born vizier-slaves, 
while the spoiled and frightened Sultans took refuge from all their prob- 
lems among the women whose constant, self-interested adulation pre- 
vented them from developing the will, decisiveness, or firmness which are 
necessarily stifled in an atmosphere of chronic indulgence. It was not the 
master's virile lusts, but the women's covert ambitions which dominated 
the seraglio. 

The fact that the harem was a whole slave society led to disastrous re- 
sults. Its considerable population under Abdul Medjid, the Red Sultan's 
father, there were 900 women in the harem, served by innumerable do- 
mestics (300 cooks alone), black and white eunuchs, mutes, guards, pages, 
etc. being utterly dependent upon the favor of a despot, waged continual 
war among one another for first place in that favor, using the arts of syco- 
phancy, flattery, bribery, spying, denunciation, wheedling, and pandering 
to all the weaknesses and vices of the Sultan, which were sedulously cul- 
tivated to provide opportunities to curry favor by satisfying them. It was 
in this atmosphere that the future Sultans spent the formative years of 
their lives. 

While the women strove to exploit the influence which, even though 
slaves, their charms gave them over the Sultan, their custodians, the eu- 
nuchs, used them as instruments to sway the ruler. Their ability to do so 
was facilitated by the fact that for centuries they were authorized at will to 
apply the whip to the carefully tended bodies designed to beguile the Sul- 
tan. Often the Kislar Agha, the chief black eunuch, "Guardian of the 
Gates of Felicity'* usually a mountain of a man, for the same outrage 
which turned whites into drawn, emaciated skeletons made the blacks 
monsters of obesity was the most important man in the kingdom, though 
he was usually a coarse, ignorant Negro slave. This indirect influence 
which the eunuchs exercised over the Sultans continued the direst domina- 
tion which they acquired during their boyhood, when the eunuchs were 
entrusted with the education of the royal princes with such education as 
they were permitted to have. It varied at different periods, but there was no 
epoch in which it was considered seemly for the princes to receive any 
genuine schooling, and the eunuchs who taught them up to the age of 
eleven had every incentive to maintain their royal charges in an ignorance 
even more dense than their own. By Abdul Hamid's time, the princes' 
school in the harem did make some pretense of teaching its pupils they 
were told romanticized and inaccurate stories about their glorious fore- 
bears, acquired a smattering of French and a touch of musical apprecia- 
tion, and for the rest read the Koran. A few of the most gifted were allowed 


to consult the ancient poets, in Persian and Arabic. But the subjects an 
apprentice-ruler might seem most to need history and politics were 
definitely forbidden. There was a good school in the harem, with a four- 
teen-year course and a curriculum running all the way from cultural sub- 
jects to hairdressing, but it was for the royal pages, not for the royal 
princes. Its students were Georgians, Circassians, Armenian^ Persians, 
Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, Greeks, Italians, Bosnians, Bohemians, 
Germans and Swiss, for they were all slaves, but never Turks. 

The harem not only failed to produce rulers of quality; it barely suc- 
ceeded in producing heirs in sufficient quantity to maintain the succession. 
A ruler who counts his women by the hundred should not be plagued, as 
some European sovereigns are, with the fear of having no issue. But ex- 
cessive sexual indulgence, which tended to render the Sultans sterile or 
impotent, made their progeny less numerous than it might otherwise have 
been Abdul Medjid, despite a renowned collection of erotic drugs and 
gadgets, was impotent at thirty-five and their offspring, once in this world, 
had a better than even chance of being very quickly ushered out of it 

In the intense rivalry which reigned among the women of the harem, 
there were two chief objectives. Though the Sultan as a rule had no wife, 
he usually named four favorites as Kadins, or concubines. The ranking 
concubine, or First Kadin, was often a power in the kingdom. But the 
status of concubine was uncertain-divorce was a mere formality, and the 
Bosporus was handy and therefore the real prize was to become Sultane 
Valide the mother of the Sultan. She became head of the harem, and the 
fact of having borne a Sultan secured her position for life. If, therefore, it 
was the goal of every ambitious woman in the harem to bear the Sultan a 
son and bring him to the throne, so it was the object of every other woman 
in the harem to prevent either the birth or the accession of any son but her 

The perils of a potential Sultan thus began before birth, and the first 
care of an expectant mother was to keep her pregnancy secret as long as 
possible, no easy feat in the public life of the harem, shared with several 
hundred other jealous women. Once a child was brought into the world, 
the second problem was to preserve it from "accidents" also difficult, as 
is evidenced, for instance, by the fact that of the thirty or so children sired 
by Abdul Medjid half died in babyhood. 

The princes had to escape not only the jealousy of the women of the 
harem, but also that of their half-brothers, as a result of a rule of succes- 
sion which passed the Sultanate not from father to son but, as long as the 
supply held out, from brother to brother in the order of age. This caused 
every Sultan to regard with distrust the half-brothers ready to step into his 
shoes, many of them often not at all scrupulous about the means for empty- 


ing these shoes. Bayazit, who became Sultan in 1389, solved the problem 
by putting his younger brothers to death. The simple logic of this method 
appealed to his successors, who followed it for several centuries. 

Those heirs to the Ottoman Empire who survived remained in their 
youth prisoners of the harem, cut off completely from the outer world, and 
denied even an elementary education. For centuries, the typical successor 
to the throne was an ignorant old man, worn out by sexual excess, accus- 
tomed only to the society of slaves and eunuchs, and imbued by the latter 
with the fear, hatred, and suspicion of all the world which their own fate 
had developed in them. For generations the harem system had revealed it- 
self an almost infallible hatchery of mis-rule; in nineteenth century Europe 
it could scarcely fail to prove itself as well a predestined recipe for revolu- 
tion. Western technological progress, and even Western political ideas, 
were beginning to transform Turkish society at many levels, but within the 
Sultan's harem the only reform in centuries had been the introduction by 
Abdul Harold's father of the four-poster bed. 

It was in one of these beds that Abdul Hamid, himself, was born, on 
September 18, 1842. He started life inauspiciously, even by harem stand- 
ards. His mother was a consumptive Circassian slave, who was more hated 
in the harem than any woman presumptuous enough to bear the Sultan a 
male heir had necessarily to be. She was never well after Abdul Hamid's 
birth, and gave her son a thoroughly unhealthy start, physically and men- 
tally, by keeping him shut up with her in her sickroom until she died; he was 
seven at the time. He was unpopular with his brothers and sisters they 
accused hini of being a tattletaleand his father denied him the affection 
that he lavished upon Abdul Hamid's older brother, Murad. Small and frail 
and furtive, with his huge nose and heavy-lidded eyes, the future Red 
Sultan was an unprepossessing child, and he was bitterly aware of it. 

Abdul Hamid received the usual harem education or lack of it; history 
and politics were still taboo. What he learned he picked up as a result of his 
own natural curiosity. His teachers reported with disapproval that he 
showed an interest in everything concerning the Empke, always considered 
an unsuitable study for the princes who would one day be called upon to 
reign over it. His passion for figures, not noticeable in many previous 
Sultans, was also discouraged by his tutors, but he managed to instruct 
himself in them by poring over the account books of the eunuch who acted 
as harem treasurer, and to such good effect that as he grew older he began 
to speculate on the Galata Bourse and accumulated a private fortune of 
some $350,000 before he acceded to the throne. He acquired a knowledge 
of French by sitting in, at the age of sixteen, on the lessons that were being 
given to a married sister. 

What the harem did teach the future Sultan was wiliness and fear, the 


two subjects it knew best. He learned the art of intrigue from its women, 
and fear from the eunuchs. He had the good luck when his mother died to 
be entrusted as a foster child to one of his father's Kadins, named Peresto, 
a woman of unusual intelligence for a harem beauty, to whom he probably 
owed much of the mental agility he later displayed. He also struck up a 
strangely close and lasting friendship with his uncle's mother, the Valide 
Sultane (dowager), Pertevale, the first lady of the harem, and a past mis- 
tress of all its ruses. 

Thanks to the kindness of these two women, Abdul grew up with one 
part of his warped and shriveled personality almost straight and whole. He 
was perhaps incapable of love, but he liked women, and when he even- 
tually inherited the imperial harem he was a gentle, considerate master to 
its inmates; his mild lusts were a healthy contrast, as far as they went, to 
the erotic excesses and aberrations of his ancestors. As a young man, 
Abdul Hamid even managed for a while to escape from the cloying em- 
brace of the harem through an outside liaison with a European woman 
an innocuously sentimental affair with a little Belgian modiste. 

From earliest childhood on, Abdul Hamid lived in fear as in a private 
cloud that he carried with him the protean, all-pervading anxiety of the 
neurotic, cowering before the teeming phantoms of the imagination, oc- 
casionally evaporating in the face of real danger. He was morbidly afraid 
of disease (his consumptive mother), electricity (after he became Sultan 
he reluctantly allowed the architects to install electric lighting in his pal- 
ace, but not a telephone), and above all, crowds. The harem eunuchs, 
hated by the common people for their graft and arrogance, had the dread 
of the crowd in their own bones; they gave to little Abdul Hamid's night- 
mares the specific shape of the lurking assassin. After he mounted the 
throne, this childhood bogie, rendered plausible by the palace tumults and 
treacheries which throughout Ottoman history had often done away with 
his predecessors, grew to monstrous dimension. Feeling insecure in the 
old waterfront palace in the city, Abdul Hamid chose Yfldiz Park, a com- 
manding position high above the Bosporus, and built himself a new one, 
Yildiz Kiosk, in the scattered style of a nomad encampment, that formed a 
strongly walled fortress. The parakeets, peacocks, monkeys, and other 
furred or feathered creatures that also made it an exotic menagerie were 
conceived as a kind of supplementary alarm system, to warn of approach- 
ing enemies. To foil possible conspirators, Abdul Hamid kept shifting 
beds he had plenty to choose from and at times of special stress the most 
important responsibility of the duty-concubine who shared with him the 
bed he had chosen for the night was to make sure that no one, or no thing, 
was hiding beneath it. The kitchens where the Sultan's meals were cooked 
had barred windows, and the food arrived on his table in sealed containers; 
even so, the chief chamberlain had to taste each dish before the Sultan did. 


The very cows in the model farm at Yildiz were kept under guard, to make 
sure that no one tampered with the ruler's milk. When he was obliged to 
appear in public, the Sultan always had one of his little sons ride beside 
hirn in the Imperial carriage, as a psychological deterrent to assassination. 
To give himself the illusion of freedom in his self-imposed prison, Abdul 
Hamid had several fully staffed cafes set up in the grounds of Yildiz for his 
exclusive use, and he would often stroll into one or the other of them, take 
a solitary seat at one of the tables, clap his hands for the waiter, and on 
leaving would even fling down a coin to pay for his coffee which, how- 
ever, could only be prepared for him by the Cafedfi Bachi, the Royal 
Coffeemaker. His other relaxations, apart from the usual harem sports, 
were riding in the Yildiz Park, rowing on its artificial lake, carving elabo- 
rate wood scrollwork, playing the piano Offenbach was his favorite com- 
poserand reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 

Abdul Hamid's phobias and his pathological cowardice were personal 
afflictions, but they had a historic component not to mention historic 
consequences. Like such European colleagues as Nicholas II and Wil- 
helm H who underneath his bluster was almost as great a coward Abdul 
Hamid was chronically unnerved by fear of the future itself. He was a 
natural-born reactionary who, in an age of swift and universal change, not 
only identified himself with the old order but tried to set the political clock 
back to an earlier time that he himself had never known. (Perhaps the 
hundred clocks whose ticking, audible in every room, startled Western 
visitors to the Sultan's pavilion at Yildiz were one symptom of his obses- 
sion.) Unlike the other two regressive autocrats, however, Abdul Hamid 
was neither a weakling nor a myth-addict. His nerves were ragged, but his 
will was steely, and his appreciation of immediate political events, within 
the limits of his education, was generally clearheaded. The harem, scan- 
dalized by two modernizing, reformist Sultans Abdul Medjid, with some 
Western prodding, had once tumbled out of bed long enough to sign a 
decree granting all his subjects equal rights under the law had taught 
Abdul Hamid as a child to equate social progress with dynastic and na- 
tional humiliation. He was determined to restore the autocratic prerogative 
to its ancient splendor, but he was intelligent enough to realize that prog- 
ress can only be fought with progress; he gave a prudent welcome to tech- 
nological modernism wherever it could help him to crush liberal reform. 
He kept in his office a map of the Ottoman Empire as its frontiers stood 
in Suleiman's day to remind himself of its lost grandeur, but he was 
realistically aware that its weak remnants could only be saved from colo- 
nial subjection or dismemberment by craft and dissimulation, and by 
playing one powerful enemy against another. 

Abdul Hamid demonstrated his tactical gifts in maneuvering his way to 
supreme power. In 1876, a palace revolution instigated by a secret society 


called the Young Ottomans the political ancestors of the Young Turks- 
deposed the reigning Sultan, Abdul Hamid's uncle Abdul Aziz, in the 
name of constitutionalism and progress. 1 The thirty-four-year-old prince's 
older brother, Murad, was next in line of succession, but he was a hopeless 
drunkard Abdul Hamid was rumored to have discreetly encouraged his 
vice. After three months he was declared insane, and deposed. Abdul 
Hamid, who had somehow convinced the revolutionaries that he was a 
liberal at heart, succeeded to the throne with their support. Murad was 
locked up in his own harem the uncle had conveniently committed suicide 
but otherwise treated with every kindness; the new Sultan saw to it that 
his brother's cellar never ran dry. 

A few months after his accession Abdul Hamid, on December 23, 1876, 
proclaimed the constitution for which the Young Ottomans and their 
sympathizers had been clamoring. The move was beautifully timed; an 
international conference which the Ottoman Empire had not been invited 
to attend, but to which it was the involuntary hostwas then sitting in 
Constantinople. It had been called by Queen Victoria's subtle Prime Minis- 
ter, Benjamin Disraeli, following some specially frightful Turkish mas- 
sacres in Bulgaria, with the double objective of protecting the Christian 
minorities and of dissuading the Russians from seizing the Dardanelles in a 
fit of righteous indignation. The delegates of the European Concert, meet- 
ing in the Russian embassy, were within a few commas of completing a 
joint ultimatum to the Sublime Port demanding autonomy for the Chris- 
tians of Bulgaria and Bosnia when an artillery salvo announced the 
proclamation of a constitution the first one in Ottoman history. That 
salvo blew up the conference; the constitution gave the Sultan's subjects 
all the guaranties they could ask for on paper and after such a gesture 
there could be no further question of international sanctions. 

Two weeks after the European diplomats had packed their bags and 
gone home, Abdul Hamid put his constitution into effect in a somewhat 
disconcerting way. Invoking an apparently innocuous amendment which 
he had drafted himself, he banished the document's chief author, his 
liberal grand vizier (premier) , Midhat Pasha, whose help had enabled him 
to mount the throne. Without Midhat, the constitution soon became a dead 
letter. This Asiatic duplicity revolted the conscience of nineteenth-century 
Europe especially in Vienna and St. Petersburg. Despite the rivalry in the 
Balkans between Russia and Austria-Hungary, Czar Alexander II wrung 
a personal promise from his cousin, Francis Joseph, to keep hands off if 
Russia undertook to chastize the treacherous Turk, and in April 1877 the 
chastisement got under way. 

1 In addition to his other failings, Abdul Aziz had been addicted to such unprogres- 
sive amusements as releasing cratefuls of hens and roosters in his harem and trying 
to catch them amid the shrieks or giggles of his wives. 


Less than a year after the war had started, the Russians were camped at 
San Stefano, seven miles from Constantinople, where, on March 3, 1878, 
Turkey was forced to sign a peace treaty which practically pushed her out 
of Europe: Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were 
to become completely independent, and a Greater Bulgaria under Russian 
domination was to be created, taking in, among other territories, most of 

The terms were supposed to be secret, but Abdul Hamid carefully al- 
lowed to leak toward London and Vienna such details as he thought might 
seem most alarming to those capitals. (No doubt his childhood training as 
a tattletale helped.) Austria suddenly began to have second thoughts about 
the gentleman's agreement that had been arrived at between her Emperor 
and the Czar, and started to mobilize her forces to check the Russians. 
When Queen Victoria was informed that the Russians were on the shores 
of the Sea of Marmora, she said: "Then they must get out!" The Russo- 
British crisis of 1878 introduced a new word jingoism into the English 
language when the British public began singing, "We don't want to fight, 
but by jingo if we do, we've got the men, we've got the ships, we've got the 
money too" and then, in a rousing tutti: "The Russians shall not have 

The men and the ships, propelled by the money, anchored within firing 
range of the Russians, stayed there for six months, and Russia in fact 
did not get Constantinople nor even the territory stipulated in the Treaty 
of San Stefano, which did not go that far. Pressure by the other European 
powers obliged her to submit the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano to the 
Congress of Berlin, which met under the chairmanship of Bismarck in June 
and July, 1878. It was preceded by a deal between England and Turkey 
in which Britain received Cyprus, As payment for Cyprus, which he called 
''the key to eastern Asia," Disraeli got back for Turkey two-thirds of what 
she had ceded in the Treaty of San Stefano. Serbia, Montenegro and 
Rumania remained independent, but Bosnia-Herzegovina, though handed 
over to Austrian administration, was theoretically under Austrian trustee- 
ship in behalf of Turkey; Bulgaria was to be a principality under nominal 
Ottoman suzerainty. 

More important than what the Congress of Berlin did to Turkey 
was what Turkey at the Congress of Berlin did to Europe, Agreement 
at Berlin to leave the Ottoman Empire in control of the straits averted 
a European war, but thanks to Abdul Hamid's adroit diplomatic well- 
poisoning, the underlying Austro-Russian rivalry was permanently en- 
venomed. The temporary award of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Dual 
Monarchy had an even more inflammatory effect on Austro-Serbian re- 
lations. Once again the old world diplomacy displayed its genius for creat- 
ing the irreparable while postponing the inevitable. In one respect Abdul 


Hamid overplayed his hand. The smoldering animosity between Russia 
and Austria-Hungary growing out of the Russo-Turkish war and the settle- 
ment of Berlin burned away the foundations of the Drei Kaiserbund, the 
dynastic entente of the three emperors Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany 
a slightly anemic descendant of Metternich's Holy Alliance, which Bis- 
marck had cemented in 1873. In so doing, the Sultan dealt a new blow to 
the solidarity of monarchs and to the divine right of autocrats, in which he 
himself was a fanatical believer. No doubt he was unaware of this just 
as his fellow autocrats in Europe were unaware that the wasting sickness 
of the Osmanli dynasty might be contagious. 

Yet the interaction of domestic political regression which in Abdul 
Hamid's reign was the gravest symptom of dynastic decay and of an Otto- 
man foreign policy aimed at fomenting discord between the great powers, 
should have been clear to all. As soon as the war with Russia was over, and 
while the European crisis that it produced was simmering, Abdul Hamid 
returned to his lifework of resurrecting Ottoman absolutism. 

"I made a mistake in wanting to imitate my father," he declared in dis- 
solving the short-lived parliament. "From now on I shall follow in the foot- 
steps of my grandfather, Sultan Mahmud, who understood that only by 
force can one move the people with whose guardianship Allah has en- 
trusted me." 

Like Nicholas II and other belated champions of neoabsolutism, Abdul 
Hamid was not content to lay down basic policy; he interfered in the small- 
est details of its execution. For all practical purposes he was his own foreign 
minister and his own minister of the interior. The result was that though he 
rose every morning between four and five, and worked until late in the 
night, he rarely managed to catch up with his paperwork. He also felt that it 
was beneath the Sultan's dignity to confer with his ministers or palace of- 
ficials; either he contented himself with giving his orders while the subordi- 
nate listened in silence and then departed to execute them, or he listened 
while the subordinate gave his report, and then commented upon it with a 
brief word, a nod, or simply a frown; it was the subordinate's duty to trans- 
late these symptoms of the imperial will into a formal decree an adminis- 
trative technique which not infrequently inverted the roles of bureaucrat 
and autocrat. 

By nature Abdul Hamid was a gentle creature who shrank from violence 
and had no penchant for inflicting wanton cruelty on his subjects. It was 
usually fear that goaded him into acts of inhumanity he once forced him- 
self to listen from behind a lattice while some wretches who had tried to 
assassinate him were questioned under torture but he could also be ruth- 
less in punishing or avenging any slights upon the imperial dignity. As a 
fundamentalist of harem tradition, he is said to have ordered the execution 
of a slave girl who had been one of his pets from her childhood because she 


committed the offense of flirting with his son. Abdul Hamid lacked the 
temperament to be a political fanatic, but he was something perhaps more 
dangerous a political pedant. He was a prig of despotism. 

Hoping to cut off liberalism at the roots, the Sultan forbade the teaching 
of literature and history in his realms. The foremost Ottoman liberal, the 
exiled Midhat Pasha, was lured back with promises of high office, then dis- 
patched as governor to the remote province of Syria, and finally banished 
to Arabia where on Abdul Hamid's orders, he was murdered. Though it is 
doubtful that Abdul Hamid had any deep religious convictions, after the 
Russo-Turkish war he delivered himself into the hands of the retrograde 
Moslem clergy, and began to put increasing stress on the hitherto largely 
ritual function of Caliph. Throughout the Moslem world the late nineteenth 
century witnessed a reaction against Western influence, which was in part 
an Islamic Reformation, in part a retreat back into the ancient night of 
Oriental superstition and fanaticism. Influenced by a retinue of zealots and 
adventurers from the backward Arabian provinces, the Sultan gave power- 
ful encouragement to the emerging doctrine of Pan-Islamism, the dream of 
a united Islamic community of 300,000,000 souls, from Java to Morocco, 
from Zanzibar to the steppes of Turkistan, under the leadership of the 
Caliph who, by a fortunate coincidence, also happened to be the temporal 
head of the Ottoman Empire. 

There is at least a faint analogy between Abdul Hamid's attempt to 
revivify the wasting Osmanli dynasty with the supranational dynamism of 
Pan-Islam, and that of the seventeenth-century Habsburgs to identify theirs 
with the Catholic counter-Reformation. The former, in any case, was even 
less successful than the latter. The Sword of Islam soon proved a double- 
edged weapon in both domestic and foreign affairs. When xenophonic na- 
tionalist disorders occurred in Egypt, the Concert of Europe 2 summoned 
Abdul Hamid, as the country's nominal suzerain to put them down. As 
Caliph of Islam, however, he could not afford to punish Moslem rebels 
against Christian colonialism. He refused, Britain thereupon occupied 
Egypt (1881). In retaliation, Abdul Hamid, up to then something of an 
Anglophile, turned away from England toward Germany. He accepted a 
German military mission to reorganize the Ottoman armies and gave Ger- 
man firms railroad concessions which eventually culminated in the German- 
financed project for a line to the Persian Gulf the famous Berlin-to-Bag- 

2 Technically, this popular term of the Old World diplomacy, stemming from the 
Congress of Vienna in 1814, merely signified the major powers of Europe acting 
in agreement, or Concert. Though the European powers then were agreed about as 
rarely as the members of the United Nations today feel united, there was something 
of the same white word-magic in "Concert of Europe" that there is in "United Na- 
tions." It implied the existence of an actual, if mystic, European community, and how- 
ever shadowy this may have been, it was an ominous symptom when the terminology 
fell into disuse toward the end of the nineteenth century. 


dad railway. In 1889 Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived in Constantinople for a 
state visit to cement the new friendship. Abdul Hamid turned on the per- 
sonal charm for which he was noted among Western diplomats, and Wil- 
helm responded sympathetically to the personality of his brother-neurotic. 
The Kaiser's trip gave a powerful impetus to Germany's Drang nach Osten 
(eastward thrust, in the sense of pressing for expanding economic and 
political influence in the Balkans and Asia Minor), which played some part 
in poisoning Anglo-German relations, and thus setting the stage for a Euro- 
pean war. The nascent Anglo-German tensions they did not become acute 
until after 1906 were sharpened after the discovery of oil in Mesopotamia 
by German "archaeologists" and by a second visit that Wilhelm paid to 
Turkey in 1898. Traveling through Palestine and Syria, the Kaiser laid a 
wreath on Saladin's tomb, and in Damascus, where he appeared in public 
dressed as a Bedouin sheik, he commemorated the friendship between 
Haroun al-Raschid and Charlemagne and pledged Germany's armed might 
to help his friend, the Caliph Abdul Hamid, defend the cause of Islam. 
(Queen Victoria, who as Empress of India ruled over nearly 100,000,000 
Moslems, was definitely not amused by her grandson's antics.) 

At home Abdul Hamid's exploitations of religion as an adjunct of des- 
potism indirectly led to the most hideous episode of his reign the Armenian 
massacres. To punish the Armenians for the nationalist agitation that had 
developed among some of the Armenian communities in the wild, moun- 
tainous region near the Caucasian border, the Sultan in 1891 authorized 
the use of Kurdish tribesmen as auxiliary police to put down the unrest The 
Kurds, most of whom were Moslem, were a neighboring mountain race 
that had lived on bad terms with the Armenians for centuries. To send them 
into the Armenian areas to track down suspected nationalist revolutionaries 
was a sure recipe for religious and race war, and that is what broke out. 
The killing which was one-sided since the Armenians were mostly un- 
armedgot under way in earnest in 1894, when the Kurds penned some 
2000 men, women, and children in the Christian cathedral at Urfa, ancient 
Edessa, and burned them alive. As a protest against Europe's failure to 
put a stop to such atrocities (the Sultan's friendship with the Kaiser helped 
to neutralize any European intervention), Armenian terrorists in 1896 
seized the Ottoman Bank, in the heart of Constantinople. This aroused 
the conscience of Europe the bank was mainly European-owned but 
before any effective pressures could be brought to bear on Abdul Hamid, 
he ordered a retaliatory massacre of Armenians living in the capital, in 
Smyrna, and in other large cities, who up to then had escaped persecu- 
tion. The order for the massacre was secret, but the execution was virtually 
official, and very tidy. Moslem mobs, usually organized and led by police 
officers, roamed through the streets armed with heavy clubs, and whenever 
they spotted an Armenian or someone who looked and dressed as if he 


might be an Armenianthey bludgeoned him, as one pole-axes steers in a 
slaughterhouse. The Trilling lasted four days and then stopped with im- 
pressive discipline, on another secret order from the Sultan. Some 7000 
Armenians perished in the capital alone. The total number of Armenians 
exterminated throughout the empire between 1891 and 1900 is still con- 
troversialsome estimates run to more than 300,000 but considering that 
the Sultan's agents had neither gas chambers nor nuclear weapons at their 
disposal, they undoubtedly perpetrated one of the most efficient attempts at 
genocide between the days of Genghis Khan and those of Hitler. Of course, 
Abdul Hamid, in ordering or tolerating the Armenian massacres, was not 
motivated solely by religious fanaticism. He disapproved of nationalism, 
and he believed, not without some foundation, that Armenian terrorists 
were plotting to assassinate him. 8 

No sooner were the embers of Armenian nationalism quenched in blood 
than another Christian uprising took place this time (1896) on the island 
of Crete. To everyone's surprise, the Sultan's German-renovated army de- 
feated a Greek force sent to aid the Cretan rebels. Although the island 
was put under a sort of European trusteeship and eventually joined with 
Greece, the prestige of victory temporarily shored Abdul Hamid's wobbly 
throne. He was not unduly worried when in the early years of the new 
century bands of Bulgarian or Macedonian comitadjisthe traditional 
brigand-revolutionaries of the Balkan Peninsula went on the offensive in 
Macedonia, with secret support from the Serbian, Greek, Montenegrin, and 
Bulgarian governments. 

The approach of old age had not weakened the Sultan's will to rule (he 
was fifty-eight in 1900), and he had lost none of his ruse, but without 
realizing it, he was more and more falling victim to the administrative 
hardening of the arteries that often marks the terminal phase of extreme 
despotisms. The upward flow of information and ideas, without which even 
an autocratic ruler cannot long survive, was being choked off by venal, 
biased, and benighted officials or courtiers who controlled the channels of 
access to the monarch's private cabinet. For the most part they were not the 
comparatively educated, though usually corrupt, ministers in the Sublime 
Porte who were nominally responsible for administering the empire under 
the Sultan, but the palace clique of eunuchs, adventurers, and fakirs. The 
most important figure in this group, and thereby one of the most powerful 
men in the Empire, was the Sultan's secretary, a quick-witted and unscrupu- 
lous Arab named Izzet Pasha. Because this camarilla alone had the Sul- 

3 A minority of Western observers has tried, not very convincingly, to exculpate 
Abdul Hamid in the massacres According to Joan Haslip (The Sultan, Cassell, Lon- 
don 1958) one of his most enthusiastic contemporary apologists was the American 
minister, Judge Terrel of Texas, who after dining with the Sultan at Yildiz as the trou- 
ble was starting in Turkish Armenia, confided to a British colleague that Abdul Hamid 
was "the best man that ever breathed, and only his agents were vile." 


tan's ear, its members were able to impose their policies upon Mm, simply 
by suppressing all contrary views, and gradually he became their puppet 
while imagining he was their master. The one chink in the curtain of censor- 
ship that Abdul Hamid's entourage threw around him proved more harm- 
ful than helpful. His suspicious nature and his morbid fear of assassination 
led him to employ what, even by Ottoman standards, was a prodigious 
number of spies (20,000, according to one count). He insisted on per- 
sonally reading their daily reports, which became more voluminous as op- 
position to his despotism mounted throughout the Empire. In the end he 
was swamped by a flood of paper; he was so busy poring over reports 
filled with the gossip of stoolpigeons and the minutiae of routine police 
surveillances he would trust no one to summarize them for himthat he 
failed to discern the most dangerous pattern of revolutionary conspiracy 
that was developing not among the minorities and the agents of foreign 
powers, but among his own Turks, and particularly in the Turkish officer- 
caste upon whom the protection of the dynasty ultimately depended. 

The Young Turks were not originally an organization but a current of 
opinion with numerous undercurrents. Ideological descendants of the 
Young Ottomans of Abdul Hamid's early reign, they were both politically 
and socially a good deal more radical than their predecessors. While not 
extreme revolutionaries in terms of their objectives most of them accepted 
the idea of a constitutional monarchy under the Osmanli dynasty their 
philosophy of revolutionary violence made them kindred spirits to those 
political "activists" of the extreme right and the extreme left who between 
them have contributed so much to shaping the contorted physiognomy of 
our age. The deepest roots of the movement were indicated by the reactions 
of the Young Turks to the Russian revolution of 1905, which had so dis- 
turbed the Sultan. Like their liberal counterparts in the Dual Monarchy, in 
Germany and elsewhere, they were encouraged by the apparent defeat of the 
autocratic principle in Russia. They seem, however, to have responded even 
more enthusiastically to the victory of emergent Japanese nationalism over 
Russian imperialism which had touched off the revolution. 

One of the significant undercurrents in the Young Turk movement was 
embodied by a secret revolutionary organization in the army that called 
itself Vatan (Fatherland). Its members believed passionately in constitu- 
tionalism, in representative government, in education, in modernizing Otto- 
man social and cultural life, and above all, in nationalism. Exactly what 
the word meant to the young conspirators is not clear like "patriotism" 
in the Habsburg Empire, "nationalism" in the Ottoman one was of neces- 
sity an ambiguous concept but one of its chief ingredients was a bristly 
resentment of European encroachments or domination. Vatan was not 
anti-Western in the sense that some of Abdul Hamid's Pan-Islamic sheiks 


were, since it was hospitable to Western ideas as well as Western technology; 
in fact many of its members had an almost extravagant admiration for 
everything Western. They preferred, however, to do their own Westernizing, 
They criticized the Sultan for allowing foreigners to enjoy extra-territorial 
privileges on Ottoman soil, for accepting an international commission to 
supervise Ottoman finances on behalf of the Empire's European debtors, 
for having let Crete slip under a virtual international mandate despite the 
glorious victory of the Ottoman Army. They were eager to have a modern 
army, but resented the arrogant Prussian instructors who were helping them 
to achieve it. 

The essentialthough not yet completely explicit philosophy of Vatan 
was perhaps best exemplified by the volcanic but rigidly self-disciplined 
personality of one of its most dynamic younger leaders: a handsome, 
fastidiously dressed cavalry officer with steely blue eyes and a predatory 
mouth named Mustapha Riaz, better known, because of his cocksure ef- 
ficiency, by the nickname, Kemal ("Perfection")* Mustapha Kemal, whom 
history now remembers under still another name, Ataturk, joined Vatan 
when he was attending the army staff college in Constantinople. On his 
graduation in 1904 he was arrested for sedition, but after two months' 
detention managed to talk the Sultan's inquisitors into releasing him no 
easy feat. Posted to the garrison in Damascus with the rank of captain, he 
set to work organising Vatan cells throughout Syria, then in 1907 had 
himself transferred to Salonika, at that time the main center of revolution- 
ary unrest in the Empire. There he switched from Vatan to a more powerful 
and important conspiratorial group the Committee of Union and Progress. 

It was this committee that represented the dominant trend in the Young 
Turk movement. Virtually all of the younger officers of the Third Army 
Corps in Macedonia belonged to it, and its outstanding leader was a bril- 
liant staff major named Enver Bey, a drawling, cosmopolite dandy in man- 
ner and appearance (despite his humble birth), at heart a twentieth-century 
condottiere. The Committee was not exclusively military, however it was 
in close touch with a group of emigr6 intellectuals in Paris and its aims, 
while similar to those of Vatan, were more articulately suffused with 
eighteenth-century rationalism and eighteenth-century political idealism, 
along with nineteenth-century nationalism. Many of its members belonged 
to Masonic lodges affiliated with the politically militant Grand Orient 
"obedience" of France and Italy, and there seems to be no doubt that this 
form of Freemasonry played a big part in framing its ideology. Whether 
European Freemasonry likewise gave direct support to its revolutionary 
activities is a more controversial matter. Possibly some European politicians 
or government officials who were also prominent members of Grand Orient 
Masonic lodges were not averse to undermining the Sultan's authority over 
his subjects. It seems likely, in any case, that the Italian consul in Salonika 


who furnished extra-territorial protection to the Masonic lodge, Macedonia 
Risorta, to which several prominent CUP leaders belonged, had at least a 
finger in the conspiracy. 

In keeping with its Masonic background, the Committee fraternally ac- 
cepted members of every race and creed; its leaders included Greeks, 
Armenians, Jews, and Turks, and it had clandestine contacts with some of 
the rebellious minorities in Macedonia. It explicitly professed the doctrine 
of "Ottomanism" loyalty to the cause of a multi-national empire, with 
every ethnic group enjoying equal civic and political rights under a con- 
stitutional ruler. Though they were known abroad as Young Turks, the 
members of the CUP did not think of themselves as Turkish nationalists. 
In fact, apart from the peasants of Anatolia, few of the Sultan's subjects 
called themselves Turks at that time. "The word 'Turk 9 to an Ottoman was 
an insult," remarks a modern Turkish writer, Irian Orga. The "Ottoman- 
ism" of the CUP was hardly less prickly than the vaguer nationalism of 
Mustapha Kemal's former Vatan comrades. It was finally a series of ex- 
ternal threats or humiliations that detonated the so-called Young Turk 
revolution of 1908. The most determinant of them was a meeting between 
the Russian Czar and his uncle, Britain's Edward VII, off the Baltic coast, 
another of those royal yachting parties, but from the diplomatic viewpoint 
a much more professional aifair than the Kaiser's ill-fated expedition to 
Bjorkoe three years before which concluded in a Russo-British pact of 
friendship. This agreement ended or at least limited the traditional rivalry 
of British and Russian imperialism in Asia and the Near East upon which 
the survival of Ottoman independence largely depended; it thereby marked 
the ultimate failure of Abdul Hamid's divide-and-rule diplomacy. The 
Salonika revolutionaries decided the time had come to save the fatherland 
whatever that might be. 

At the beginning of My 1908, Enver Bey took command of a detach- 
ment of 150 Ottoman troops in eastern Macedonia near the present Greek- 
Yugoslav border and proclaimed the revolution. One of his fellow conspira- 
tors stationed in another part of Macedonia looted the battalion treasure 
and fled with his troops to the hills, joining forces with the Christian rebels 
he had been sent to suppress. A few days later the revolutionaries mur- 
dered the loyalist general commanding the Ottoman garrison in Monastir 
(today a town of southern Yugoslavia) and set up their headquarters. A 
battalion of supposedly loyal troops rushed in from Anatolia, went over to 
the insurrection almost as soon as they landed in Salonika. Before the 
Sultan, caught off guard by a real conspiracy after a lifetime of hunting 
down more or less imaginary ones, fully realized what was happening, the 
whole Third Army Corps was in revolt and threatening to march on the 
capital. When the Committee of Union and Progress sent its formal ulti- 
matum OB July 23, Abdul Hamid found himself with no trustworthy forces 


available. Since there was no immediate hope of licking the revolution, he 
decided to join it in his fashion. 

The Young Turks did not take over the government themselves. They 
were content to demand the removal of Abdul Hamid's sycophants and 
their replacement by politicians or officials sympathetic to the cause of re- 
form. They allowed the Sultan to keep Yildiz Kiosk, including its harem, 
but they closed its private theater, cut down the number of his aides-de- 
camp from 290 to 30, and left him only 75 out of 300 musicians for his 
private orchestra. They also fired the Sultan's spies. 

Abdul Hamid, on his side, made a seemingly conscientious effort to play 
the role of constitutional monarch. On December 17, 1908, he attended 
the first session of the newly elected parliament, sitting impassively in the 
royal box while one of his secretaries read his inaugural address, full of 
pious hopes and sound liberal sentiments. 

The honeymoon between the crypto-nationalist freethinkers from Sa- 
lonika and the retired autocrat, who remained Caliph of Islam, lasted for 
only a few months, however. The old conspirator still had some tricks to 
teach the young ones. In the early spring of 1909 the Moslem Brother- 
hood, a recently created secret counterrevolutionary societyfor whose ac- 
tivities Abdul Hamid accepted no responsibility instigated a mutiny of 
private soldiers and non-coms against their Young Turk officers in the main 
barracks of the capital. Mobs of religious fanatics, led by Moslem theo- 
logical students and in some cases by unemployed former spies of the 
Sultan joined the rioting troops. For a few days the counterrevolution 
took over Istanbul; the Committee of Union and Progress had to go un- 
derground again, and a return to autocracy seemed close at hand, though 
Abdul prudently refrained from committing himself. 

On April 23, however, a Young Turk force from Salonika, with Enver 
Bey commanding one of its leading columns, and Mustapha Kemal serving 
on the staff, fought its way back into the city. Two days later Abdul Hamid 
was deposed, and his colorless brother, Mohammed V, installed on the 
throne. When a delegation from the Committee of Union and Progress 
arrived at Yildiz to break the news, the ex-Sultan, looking frailer and more 
shrunken than ever with a military dress-greatcoat thrown over his shoul- 
ders, at first bore himself with kingly dignity. 

"In accordance with a fetva (a decree of the highest Moslem religious 
authority), the Nation has deposed you," General Essad, the leader of the 
delegation, told him. "The National Assembly assumes responsibility for 
your personal security and that of your family. You have nothing to fear." 

"This is Kismet [fate]," Abdul Hamid answered impassively. A few 
moments later, however, he started hysterically begging for his life; when 
the delegation returned later in the day bringing an order for his banishment 
to Salonika, of all places he fainted away. On being revived, he was in- 


formed that he would have to leave at once with his family and suite. He 
was warned that the Nation was rationing him to three wives, four con- 
cubines, four eunuchs, and fourteen servants. Other tyrants have fared 

The Young Turk revolution was destined to have a second and more 
consequential flowering in the 1920s; the first one withered on the tree. 
Autocracy was deposed for good with Abdul Hamid, but in its place the 
Young Turks set up a de facto oligarchy which exercised power through 
the political party that they controlled the Party of Freedom and Progress, 
sprung from the secret society of the same name. Opposition and criticism 
were theoretically tolerated, but practically discouraged by means that 
were often reminiscent of the Red Sultan's. The survivors of Abdul Hamid's 
fabulous spy corps soon found steady employment; the prisons that had 
been emptied after the July revolution rapidly filled up again, and not 
merely with the supporters of the March counterrevolution. Progress was 
encouraged, after a fashion, but hardly with a vigor sufficient to justify the 
dictatorship exercised in its name. Perhaps the most durable reform of 
the new regime was to round up the famous pariah dogs that infested the 
streets of Istanbul the verminous symbols of Moslem charity and to ban- 
ish them to a small island in the Sea of Marmora, where they speedily 
came to a grisly but progressive end. 

From the first there had been an implicit contradiction between the demo- 
cratic "Ottomanism" which the Young Turks professed and the nascent 
Turkish nationalism which was their deepest motivation. The revolutionary 
brotherhood-in-arms between Turkish conspirators and Macedonian 
comtadjis did not long survive the triumph of the revolution. Confronted 
with continued unrest among the subject peoples of the Empire there were 
simultaneous uprisings in Moslem Arabia and in partly Christian Albania 
and harassed by the incessant intrigues of the great powers, the new 
regime gradually reverted to the oppressive nationalities policy of the old 
one; in time it even resurrected Abdul Hamid's Pan-Islamic doctrines, and 
had its own Armenian massacres. Arrogant, chauvinistic, and often brutal, 
the Young Turk oligarchy conducted foreign policy in the same barracks- 
room style with which it handled domestic affairs. It thereby achieved the 
remarkable feat of leaguing all the Balkan powers against the Ottoman 
Empire and laid the stage for the disastrous Balkan war of 1912. This in 
itself was no small contribution to the general European conflict which 
broke out two years later. Ironically, however, it was not the Young Turks' 
betrayal of their early ideals that contributed the most directly to the World 
War; it was rather the fleeting threat that they might live up to them. The 
great powers hoped to keep the Sick Man alive, but none of them wanted 


to see him get well. By creating the illusion that recovery was imminent, 
the Young Turk revolution of July 1908 spurred two of the larger European 
predators, Austria and Russia, to plunder the invalid while he was still 
helpless. Inevitably, their claws tangled. 


Rehearsal for Doom 


I ME of the first by-products of the Young Turk revolution 
and ultimately one of the most fateful was the Austro- 
Russian conference which took place on September 5-6, 1908, at the 
Castle of Buchlau in Moravia (today part of Czechoslovaida). Officially, 
it was only a diplomatic house party given by the owner of the castle, 
Count Leopold von Berchtold, at that time the Austro-Hungarian minister 
in St. Petersburg, who was destined to reappear on the international stage a 
few years later in more dramatic circumstances. 

From the viewpoint of contemporary journalists who covered the affair, 
it must have made a baffling and rather unsatisfactory story. The first tip 
on it had come from the Ballplatz (the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office) 
itself, which had discreetly passed on word to reporters that the Austrian 
Foreign Minister, Baron Alois Aehrenthal, and his Russian colleague, 
Count Alexander Izvolsky then taking the waters at Karlsbad would be 
fellow guests at Buchlau. Such official helpfulness was sufficiently rare in 
Vienna, where the tradition of Metternichian diplomacy was still strong, to 
give the press the idea that something momentous must be in the wind. Yet 
when the correspondents were finally admitted into the castle, after spending 
the greater part of two days waiting outside its gates, with only an occa- 
sional tantalizing glimpse of the two foreign ministers strolling under the 
ancient trees of its park, it was to be handed a communiquS that contained 
little but pious platitudes. The somewhat mushy kernel of the statement 
appeared to be in a paragraph which voiced the hope that the new regime 
in Turkey might prove to be an element of peace in Europe and declared 
that the two foreign ministers were agreed on the need of adopting toward 
it a "benevolent and expectant attitude." 


The unspoken question in the journalist's minds Why issue a commu- 
nique if that is all that the two governments had to say? was answered 
within a few days, but the Buchlau meeting remains in certain respects 
one of the residual enigmas of the prewar period, even though the margin 
of controversy as to what actually happened is small. Like the fiasco at 
Bjorkoe in 1905, Buchlau was both a milestone on the road to war and a 
symptom of the institutional decay that was eating away the foundations of 
the old order in Europe. (It was also one more striking illustration of the 
sinister imbrication between the international tensions of the period and 
the internal political strains of its crumbling autocracies.) Unlike that 
earlier meeting between Nicholas II and Wilhelm II, the Buchlau con- 
ference was not "operetta diplomacy" conducted by a couple of royal 
amateurs. The European crisis that stemmed from it was the inadvertent 
handiwork of two trained, experienced professional diplomats utilizing the 
traditional techniques of their calling, and operating within the ideological 
frame of reference accepted by most of their colleagues including those of 
the Western European democraciesat the time. 

Izvolsky, a big, moon-faced man with marbly, blue eyes and ponderous 
mustaches, looked somewhat like a confidence man trying to pass himself 
off as a guileless country squire. In reality he was a well-read, at least 
moderately intelligent specialist in international affairs (though perhaps 
handicapped by the small scope for initiative and responsibility which the 
Czar left his ministers), and basically no more dishonest than an Old 
World diplomat especially a Czarist one was expected to be. His chief 
failings were extreme conservatism, mental indolence, and an almost mystic 
self-satisfaction. The idea of organizing a quiet little meeting with the 
Austrians was largely his ownor so he thought. The Czar, after some 
hesitation, had approved his suggestion for an informal tour of Europe to 
sound out the signatories of the Treaty of Berlin about a revision of its 
Article 25, which since 1878 had closed the Black Sea exit to the Russian 

In Russian minds, easing the stringencies of the treaty was, of course, 
merely an opening gambit in a series of moves aimed ultimately at realizing 
the age-old Russian dream of reaching Constantinople and gaining control 
of the straits. The Russian defeat in the war with Japan had reactivated the 
dream, and the Revolution of 1905 had bred the need of which Izvolsky 
as stanch supporter of the monarchy was keenly aware for some success 
abroad to bolster the Czar's prestige at home. The Young Turk revolution, 
in Izvolsky's view, gave his plans a particular urgency. For the moment, 
the Young Turks had too many domestic problems on their hands to resist 
concerted foreign pressures; if their reforms succeeded, however, the Otto- 
man Empire might pull itself together at last, and the golden moment would 
be lost. Aehrenthal, Izvolsky correctly reasoned, would be receptive to this 


argument. He knew that Vienna, too, was eager to revise the Treaty of 
Berlin so that Austria-Hungary could formally annex Bosnia and Herzeo- 
govina-this treaty was the instrument which had sanctioned Austro- 
Hungarian occupation of the provinces in 1878 before a renovated and 
reformed Ottoman Empire could demand their return. A clause in the Otto- 
man constitution provided that seats in the new parliament should be re- 
served for the two provinces, and the Young Turks were even talking about 
eventually holding elections there. Conditions in Izvolsky's analysis thus 
seemed propitious for one of those "little agreements" between Russia 
and Austria-Hungary-naturally behind the backs of their respective allies 
despite their traditional rivalry in the Balkans. Even before the triumph of 
the Young Turk movement, Izvolsky had written to Aehrenthal hinting at 
the possibility of such a deal, and had not been rebuffed. 1 

Unfortunately for Izvolsky and for the future of Europe-he does not 
seem to have grasped the full subtlety and complexity of AehrenthaTs 
Balkan policy, though Aehrenthal, who had earlier served as Austro- 
Hungarian minister in St. Petersburg, was well known to him. The Austrian 
foreign minister, a stiff, nearsighted man, whose bullet head topped with 
irascible gray fuzz gave him the look of a provincial notary, had one of 
the most brilliant and in certain respects one of the most unscrupulous- 
diplomatic minds of his day. He was as vain as Izvolsky, and believed as 
fanatically in the historic mission of the Dual Monarchy as he did in his 
own which proves that he, too, was a mystic. His brain, like some swollen 
gland, secreted ideas in an uncontrollable stream. His numerous enemies 
accused him of having a Talmudic mentality he was the grandson of a 
Jewish grain merchant but it could be more accurately described simply 
as an extreme example of late Viennese baroque. This type of convolute 
intelligence, widespread, though in a less genial form, among Francis Jo- 
seph's subjects, is characterized by the ability to turn ideas upside down 
and inside out; it can recognize duplicity as the supreme expression of good 
faith, or war as being merely a noisy form of peace. 

The Balkan policy that Aehrenthal had developed since he took over the 
Ballplatz in 1906 was his masterpiece a majestic labyrinth of thought, 

i The key passage of Izvolsky's letter, from Albertini's book, is a superb example of 
Old World diplomatic prose: 

"We continue to be of the opinion that the question of changing the state of things 
laid down in Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, i.e. the annexation of Bosnia- 
Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novibazar is eminently a European concern and not 
of a nature to be settled by a separate understanding between Russia and Austria- 
Hungary. On the other hand, we are ready to recognize that the same reservation 
applies to the question of Constantinople, its adjacent territory and the Straits. However, 
in view of the extreme importance to our two countries of seeing the above-mentioned 
questions settled hi accordance with their mutual interests, the Imperial Government 
would be prepared to enter into the discussion of them in a friendly spirit of rec- 


endlessly negating its own negations, which only the pictorial genius of a 
Saul Steinberg could render fully comprehensible to a present-day reader. 
Contrary to what Izvolsky supposed, pushing down through the Balkans to 
Salonika was no longer an objective of Austro-Hungarian diplomacy, as it 
had been under some earlier foreign ministers. In Aehrenthal's opinion, the 
hankering for acquiring Balkan real estate was a weakness of vulgar minds. 
The Balkans were largely peopled with Slavs, and the Austro-Hungarian 
Empire could not afford to burden itself with any more Slavic minorities. 
If Aehrenthal wanted to revise the Treaty of Berlin and to formally annex 
Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was not to use these provinces for further expansion 
at the expense of Turkey; it was to contain Serbian expansion at the ex- 
pense of Austria-Hungary. 

Here a broad look at the over-all political situation in the Balkan 
Peninsula in Aehrenthal's day may be helpful. The complex geography and 
the tormented history of the region need not be gone into deeply at this 
point; what is important to stress is that the whole area in the early twentieth 
century was heaving in a turbulent anticolonialist revolution somewhat akin 
to the one that is going on today throughout the Middle East and parts of 
Africa. The first phase of this revolution, the phase of violent de-coloniza- 
tion had almost been completed by the end of the nineteenth century. The 
Ottoman Empire for it was against this Moslem and Asiatic imperialism 
that the Christian colonies of the Balkans were revoltinghad been forced 
to recognize the independence of Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. Bosnia 
and Bulgaria were still nominally part of the Ottoman Empire but the 
former was actually under Austro-Hungarian rule and the latter was for all 
practical purposes already a free nation. The Albanians, the Macedonians 
a Slav people akin to the Bulgars and hundreds of thousands of other 
Christians remained under the Ottoman yoke but their liberation was 
clearly only a question of time. 

In 1908 the second phase of the Balkan revolution was already well 
under way; that of nationalist expansionism, of blind groping for the limits 
of nationhood, of extravagant irredentisms. As in Africa and the Middle 
East today, the juvenile greeds or idealisms of the newly liberated nations 
in the Balkans repeatedly clashed not only with interests of the established, 
imperialist powers, like Austria-Hungary and Italy not to mention the 
hereditary enemy, Turkey but with those of their anticolonialist brothers. 
Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece all had conflicting territorial claims, either on 
yeMo-be-liberated Ottoman holdings, or on each other. The inherent in- 
stability of the area was aggravated by the overlapping or contradictory ap- 
peals of supranational movements roughly analogous to such contemporary 
trends as Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islam, and Pan-Africanism. 
One of the most dynamic of these Balkan supranationalisms or superna- 
tionalisms was the Pan-Serb movement, whose goal was the union of all 


the Serb (or Serbo-Croat) populations of southeastern Europe. A few bold 
thinkers already had an even more ambitious dream: the creation of a 
Yugoslav commonwealth embracing all the South Slavs. Naturally, the 
main impetus for this project, in its varying degrees of ambition and ex- 
tremism, came from the kingdom of Serbia itself, which could reasonably 
hope to provide the leadership for a larger South Slav Confederation. As 
an example of free national life, the very existence of an independent Serbia 
on the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had an unsettling influence 
on the millions of South Slavs who lived under the mild but alien Habsburg 
yoke. But Serbia was not content merely to exist and be an example. In- 
fluential elements in the little mountain kingdom began actively propagan- 
dizing their racial brothers in the neighboring empire, and encouraging 
subversive conspiracies against the Emperor's authority. This Pan-Serb (or 
Yugoslav) agitation increased sharply after 1904 when a group of ultra- 
nationalist (i.e. Pan-Serb) army officers murdered the relatively pro- 
Austrian King Alexander Obrenovitch and his queen, Draga, and installed 
Peter Karageorgevitch, a more aggressively patriotic monarch, on the 
throne. Undeveloped Serbia with its population of 4,000,000 Balkan hill- 
billies, supported, it is true, by the distant might of a sympathetic Russia, 
began to seem a real threat to the integrity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 
with its population of 50,000,000. 

For a while the authorities in Vienna tried to force the new regime in 
Serbia into clamping down on Pan-Serb agitation by applying economic 
sanctions against the kingdom. This was the "Pig War" of 1906, so-called 
because the heaviest Austrian sanction was an embargo on Serbian pork 
a major item in Serbia's foreign tradewhich up to that time had crossed 
the frontiers of the Dual Monarchy freely, and usually under its own power, 
in the form of immense herds of live Serbian pigs, squealing and jostling 
under the goads of their drivers as they plodded almost shoulder-deep in 
the dust or mire of the Empire's backroads, en route to the Royal, Royal 
Imperial, or Royal-and-Imperial sausage factories of his Apostolic Maj- 
esty, Though Austria-Hungary was virtually the sole market for Serbian 
livestock and other farm produce, economic logic had not assured victory 
in the "Kg War," and Aehrenthal, shortly after he took over the foreign 
ministry, had shown good sense by calling for a re-examination of the 
Dual Monarchy's relations with its peppery little neighbor to the south. 

"Our policy of making Serbia economically and politically dependent 
and treating her as a negligible quantity has foundered," the new foreign 
minister declared at a cabinet meeting in Vienna on October 27, 1907. 
"Only a third party would profit by a conflict between Serbia and the Mon- 
archy. Politically we must urgently beg for such a conduct of Croatian, 
Dalmatian and Bosnian affairs as would place the center of gravity for the 
Serbo-Croat peoples within the Monarchy." 


While not entirely clear, Aehrenthal's remarks indicated that at the time 
he was not anti-Serbian in the ordinary sense of the word. (Of course, 
Aehrenthal was never anything in the ordinary sense of the word.) His 
views seemed close to those of certain thinkers in Archduke Francis Ferdi- 
nand's "Belvedere Group" who favored a reconciliation with Belgrade in 
order to placate the South Slav elements within the Dual Monarchy, and 
even dreamed of luring Serbia into a freely accepted federal union presided 
over by the Habsburg dynasty. 

Since the Serbians were known to covet Bosnia-Herzegovina themselves, 
and therefore passionately opposed annexation of the provinces by Austria- 
Hungary, it might be supposed that any Austrian statesman who favored 
improving relations with Serbia the policy that Aehrenthal seemed to ad- 
vocatewould necessarily favor delaying annexation until some friendly 
understanding on the Bosnian problem could be worked out with Belgrade. 
Aehrenthal's logic was of a more sophisticated variety, however. According 
to one of his loyal subordinates at the Ballplatz, he maintained that the 
annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was actually the "precondition of any 
further step towards a satisfactory solution of the Monarchy's Southern 
Slav question," while an Austrian withdrawal from there would be a form 
of "political hara-kiri." 

Ultimately, Francis Joseph's foreign minister, who liked to think of him- 
self as a Danubian Bismarck, or as a twentieth-century Metternich, worked 
around to the curious view that the best way to cement the loyalty of the 
Emperor's Serbo-Croat subjects was to woo Bulgaria, a country for which 
they had no affection, rather than Serbia, with which they had, at the very 
least, strong sentimental ties. 

"They had to make up their minds to tear the evil up by the roots and put 
an end to all Pan-Serb dreams for the future," Aehrenthal wrote in secret 
memorandum outlining the salient features of his Balkan policy. Explaining 
that a conflict between Bulgaria and Serbia was inevitable a shrewd proph- 
ecyhe continued: 

"If in this struggle we favor the Bulgarian cause and the creation of a 
Big Bulgaria at the expense of Serbia, we shall have completed the neces- 
sary preparation for laying hands on what remains of Serbia as soon as a 
propitious star is in the ascendant in Europe." 

He looked to an independent Albania (under his aegis, of course) a 
friendly Montenegro and "a Big Bulgaria bound to us by ties of gratitude." 

It is hard to translate this Old World diplomatic gobbledygook into con- 
temporary language without oversimplifying Aehrenthal's reasoning and 
thereby doing him an injustice. The policy he proposed was not a stupid 
one, but it was fatally devious and deviously fatal. It was also almost the 
reverse of the course he had urged earlier. The Empire, he argued in effect, 


was permanently threatened by Pan-Serb agitation fomented from across 
the frontiers by Serbia, and inspired by Serbian expansionist ambitions, 
which could be satisfied only at the expense of Austria-Hungary. To make 
the Empire's frontiers safe, the evil-and independent Serbia-must there- 
fore be torn up by the roots. The best way to do this was encourage Bul- 
garian ambitions to expand at Serbia's expense. War would break out 
between the two Balkan rivals, Serbia and Bulgaria, and the latter, discreetly 
backed by Austria-Hungary, would win, annexing a lot of formerly Ser- 
bian territory. Serbia would be mined by the defeat, and Austria-Hungary 
would quietly annex what was left of her at the first favorable moment 
Le. when the great powers were too busy elsewhere to interfere. (The 
Habsburgs would thus acquire a million or more new South Slav subjects, 
despite AehrenthaPs earlier warning against this very mistake.) Then the 
Dual Monarchy would have only safe frontiers to the south: an enlarged 
but grateful Bulgaria, a friendly independent Albania (which Aehrenthal 
proposed to liberate from Turkish rule and set up as a sovereign state) and 
a friendly or at least harmless little Montenegro. No enemy would be left to 
foment unrestat least from the outside among the Empire's South Slavs. 

These were a few of the ideas leaping in AehrenthaTs restless mind, like 
apes of thought swinging from branch to branch in some equatorial jungle, 
as he prepared himself with his usual meticulous care for the talks at 
Buchlau. In certain respects they were painfully different from what Izvol- 
sky who like other Czarist diplomats looked on both Bulgaria and Serbia 
as Russian protegesimagined them to be. The house party at Count von 
Berchtold's castle turned out to be a thoroughly pleasant affair as long as 
it lasted. The guests included Count Paul Esterhazy, Aehrenthal's insepa- 
rable Hungarian chef de cabinet (Aehrenthal was married to a Magyar 
Countess and habitually surrounded himself with Hungarian die-hards), 
and one of the young secretaries of the Russian legation in Vienna. The 
atmosphere was an agreeable blend of the social and of the official Thor- 
oughly relaxed, puffing on a good cigar, while liqueurs were being handed 
around after dinner, Izvolsky did not find it difficult to touch on the subject 
close to his heart, and he was gratified to hear his Austrian hosts assure 
him at least he thought he heard them that for their part, they had no 
objection to the idea of reopening the straits to the Russian fleet. As he 
expected, the Austrians in return raised the question of Bosnia and Herze- 
govina, and asked with unusual directness how Russia would feel if Aus- 
tria-Hungary simply annexed the two provinces. 

Izvolsky, who has been described as "unwilling to say anything which 
might appear to be displeasing to his interlocutors," replied a little vaguely 
that he could not see any objections, "but, of course, a satisfactory proce- 
dure would have to be found." 


In addition to the general conversation at mealtimes, the two foreign 
ministers spent six hours talking together, first as they strolled around the 
park, then in Berchtold's crowded little study. Except for the innocuous 
press communique, nothing was put in writing; there was no formal rec- 
ord of the talks. This was not only secret diplomacy; it was gentlemen's di- 
plomacy in its most gentlemanly form. Izvolsky, as he drove away from 
Buchlau for a holiday in the Bavarian Alps, was even more pleased with 
himself than usual. It seems strange that he was so unwary; Aehrenthal 
was noted among his colleagues all over Europe for his outstanding skill at 
slipping important elements into casual conversation the fine print of 
verbal exchange in such a way that they passed unnoticed. 

A month later, on October 5, just after Izvolsky, fresh from his rest in 
Bavaria, had reached Paris, the time bomb set at Buchlau went off. News 
agency dispatches from Vienna announced that the Austrian annexation 
of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a fait accompli. The dispatches added that Bul- 
gariawhich under the Treaty of Berlin still owed nominal allegiance 
to the Ottoman Sultan had at the same time proclaimed its formal inde- 
pendence, with Austrian approval, but without consulting its Slavic big 
brother, Russia. This was another blow to Russian prestige in the Balkans. 

In the tense Europe of 1908 the "Balkan Powder Barrel" was already 
a well-worn cliche; any unilateral action in that region was bound to usher 
in an atmosphere of crisis. There was an explosion of fury in Serbia, where 
the dream of South Slav unity had received a cruel blow. Belgrade an- 
nounced the mobilization of 120,000 men, Russian opinion reacted nearly 
as violently. Sympathy for the oppressed Slav brethren flooded Moscovite 
hearts. In every European capital there was talk of possible war. 

Izvolsky was in hot water. The Austrians proclaimed loudly that, through 
his voice, Russia had agreed to their move. Count Berchtold even went 
so far as to put up a tablet in the study of his castle to commemorate the 
"conversations, of such major importance to Austria, when Izvolsky gave 
his consent to the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina." It was difficult, un- 
der the circumstances, for Izvolsky to protest. His explanations to St. Peters- 
burg fell on unsympathetic ears he had informed the Czar, but none of the 
ministers, of the deal he was preparing. His only hope was to press for the 
compensation which he thought had been promised him at Buchlau. He 
called loudly for a conference of the signatories of the Berlin Treaty to take 
up the Bosnian question, such a meeting would have the double advantage, 
in his eyes, of bringing Austria to heel, and of opening the way for a 
revision of the straits statute. 

But in London, where Izvolsky had rushed from Paris, the idea of letting 
the Russian fleet into the Mediterranean, athwart Britain's main line of com- 
munications with India, was no more popular than it had ever been; polite 
evasiveness was all that the unfortunate diplomat got. In Paris his only 


satisfaction was hearing Premier demenceau, at a brilliant diplomatic re- 
ception, greet the startled Austrian ambassador with a loud, "Eh bien, 
avez-vous bientdt fini de mettre le feu aux quatre coins de VEurope?" 
("Well! How soon are you going to be finished setting fire to the four cor- 
ners of Europe?") 

Feeling cheated and desperate, Izvolsky hastened to Berlin. The Kaiser 
was furious at his Austrian ally's coup, and reviled "that Jew, AehrenthaT 
for his independent action. "Why," he fumed, "I am the last one to be in- 
formed in Europe." Wilhelm had no desire to be involved with the per- 
petual witch's cauldron of Austro-Russian rivalry in the Balkans. He was 
acutely embarrassed by the memory of his flamboyant visits to Turkey, 
and of the no less flamboyant speeches he had delivered in the course of 
them. And now his Austrian ally was snatching two provinces from his 
Turkish friends. 

Izvolsky's spirits rose when an invitation bidding him to lunch with the 
Kaiser arrived, but they were at an all-time low when, the afternoon still 
young, he emerged from the Imperial Palace; he had not been able to allude 
to his problems even once. His host had sternly confined the conversation 
to trivialities. Izvolsky rushed to see the Kaiser's Chancellor. "I am in a ter- 
rible mess," he confided, but Biilow was unmoved. He could do nothing for 
Izvolsky, except advise him to keep the ebullient Serbs on a tight rein. 

From St. Petersburg, to which the hapless Izvolsky eventually had to re- 
turn, he continued to bombard the European powers with note after note. 
By December, the situation had become so tense that an Austrian invasion 
of Serbia seemed imminent. Nicholas wrote Wilhelm to beg him to restrain 
his ally. 

"You must realize the difficult position in which I would be put if Aus- 
tria declared war on Serbia," the Czar pointed out. "To maintain peace 
I would have to choose between my own conscience and the unleashed pas- 
sions of my people." 

To Francis Joseph, Nicholas wrote complaining of AehrenthaTs du- 

The Austrian Emperor was unimpressed. He could not see what the Rus- 
sians were fussing about; they had consented to the annexation, hadn't 
they? It was only to put a stop to the Serbian agitation against the Dual 
Monarchy that the step had been taken. Expansion in the East was of no in- 
terest to Austria. "Those people are unprofitable," he had once said, refer- 
ring to the Southern Slavs. Aehrenthal had given him his solemn word that 
there was no danger of warlike complications. Otherwise he would never 
have signed the decree of annexation. He replied coldly to the Czar's letter: 

"When your foreign minister gave us assurances, [that Russia had no 
objections to the proposed annexation] my ministers could not suppose that 


he was giving them in his own name, rather than in that of the imperial 
government, without being authorized to do so by you." 

By January 1909, the general staffs of Austria and Russia were preparing 
to mobUize. England, France, and Italy offered to mediate. They called on 
Germany to join in this measure of appeasement. But Billow had other 

The German Chancellor, then sixty, had recently lost the Kaiser's confi- 
dence and he knew that his days in power were numbered. (He was to re- 
sign in July 1909, after having held the chancellorship since 1900.) No 
doubt he welcomed the chance to make one last brilliant appearance on 
the stage of history, the more so because the role in which he saw himself 
cast was one for which he had been preparing all his life. Amiable, witty, 
urbane, handsome in a silver-haired, somewhat un-Prussian way, and en- 
dowed with a definitely un-Prussian nimbleness of mind, Bulow had been 
a disciple of Bismarck. He admired above all the Iron Chancellor's amoral 
dedication to the power goals of the Prussian state, and prided himself on 
following this high example in his own policies. He was, in fact, unscru- 
pulous enough in a shallow, diplomatic way, but he lacked the fierce per- 
sonal integrity that went with Bismarck's lack of public scruple, and he 
had neither his hero's nerve, nor his farsightedness. Most of his career had 
been spent in diplomacy. He had risen, mainly by merit, from secretary of 
legation to head of the Imperial foreign office, before becoming chancellor. 
Like Izvolsky and Aehrenthal he stood at the top of his profession in Eu- 
rope. In fact he was a much better diplomat than either of them: more 
adroit, clearer-headed, lacking only the Bismarckian gift of realizing what 
a dangerous thing victory can be. 

"I trusted my skill and strength to set the points so that the Austrian 
express should not collide with the Russian one," he had boasted to the 

The situation was ideal for a display of brinkmanship if one did not 
worry too much about the future. Russia, weakened by revolutionary trou- 
bles, insufficiently recovered from the Far Eastern fiasco, was quite unpre- 
pared for war. Her French and British allies had demonstrated that they 
did not consider her dispute with Austria over Serbia as warranting more 
than diplomatic support. 

As soon as Turkey, pressed by Germany, and bribed by Austria, finally 
recognized the annexation, Aehrenthal in a series of notes to the European 
powers demanded not only that Serbia recognize the rape of the sister 
provinces, but also give a written promise of future good behavior: No 
protesting, no more attacks on the Dual Monarchy; good-neighborly rela- 
tions were to reign from now on. A particularly stiff warning was sent to 


Next, it was Germany's turn to play. On March 21, 1909, the German 
Ambassador in St. Petersburg, Count Friedrich von Pourtales, presented 
himself at the foreign office. He was in receipt of drastic instructions from 
Berlin. They had to be assured, he said, that Russia accepted the Austro- 
Hungarian note, and gave her formal and unreserved agreement to the ab- 
rogation of Article 25 [of the Treaty of Berlin], His Excellency would 
stress to Mr. Izvolsky that a definite answer was in order: "Yes or no." 

A hastily summoned council of ministers decided that there was no other 
course but to swallow what was virtually a German ultimatum. Russia was 
forced to recognize the Bosnian fait accompli and to drop Serbia like a hot 
brick. (A week later, Belgrade accepted the humiliating Austrian demands.) 

"It is a bitter pill," Izvolsky admitted to the British Ambassador, Sir 
Arthur Nicolson, "but the whole Austro-Gennan plan had been carefully 
prepared, and the favourable moment chosen. Three or four years later, 
Russia would have sufficiently recovered her forces to reply in other tones." 

Biilow was delighted with the results of his saber-rattling. Under the 
threat of war he had forced Europe to condone Austria's act of diplomatic 
brigandry in the Balkans, and had demonstrated to Russia the unreliability 
of her allies. "The continental power of Germany," he crowed, "has burst 
the meshes of encirclement." 

Because none of their vital interests were threatened, France and Eng- 
land had averted their eyes while a European treaty to which they were 
signatories was being violated. With smugness that recalls certain Western 
reactions to what happened at Munich twenty-nine years later, the London 
Times dismissed the crisis with these words: "The danger of war has thus, 
we may confidently hope, been averted." 

Yes, war had been averted. But both the way in which the crisis had 
arisen and the way in which it was resolved should have made thoughtful 
Europeans shudder and did in fact make some shudder at the outlook 
for a peace dependent on monarchs and ministers who conducted the affairs 
of twentieth-century world powers in the spirit and style of eighteenth-cen- 
tury rulers-by-divine-right wrangling over the dismemberment of a grand 
duchy or preparing to shed their subjects' blood to avenge an affront to an 
ambassador's honor. As to the practical consequences of the interna- 
tional crisis launched by that pleasant houseparty in that charming little 
Moravian castle, it is hard to overestimate them. 

One consequence, and not the least one, was the transfer of an embittered 
Izvolsky from the Foreign Ministry in St. Petersburg to the Russian Em- 
bassy in Paris. There for the next few critical years he labored with vin- 
dictive zeal to tighten the noose of the Franco-Anglo-Russian alliance 
around the throats of Germany and Austria, while his aides bribed the 
venal French press of the day on a huge scale, thereby helping to inflame 
the chronic French chauvinism. In both these tasks, he worked closely with 


like-minded French officers or officials in the General Staff, in the Foreign 
Ministry and in the police, and with strident spokesmen of French nation- 
alism like Theophile Delcasse, still smarting over the rejection of his tough 
foreign policy in the 1905 Moroccan crisis with Germany, and Raymond 
Poincare, the dour Lorraine politician who was soon to become premier, 
then president of the republic. While Izvolsky was thus employed in Paris, 
his successor in St. Petersburg, Serge Sazonov a loyal former subordinate 
who still tended to look to his old chief for guidance mobilized against 
Austria-Hungary the powerful apparatus of Russian overt and covert 
political warfare in the Balkans. "I have the impression," Sazonov wrote 
in 1910 to his minister in Belgrade, N. H. de Hartwig, "that Austria-Hun- 
gary, despite the German brotherhood in arms, is on her last legs . . . 
Serbia's promised land lies within the orbit of present-day Austria-Hungary 
. . . Under these circumstances it is a matter of vital importance for Serbia 
to put herself by hard and patient work in the position of readiness neces- 
sary to face the inevitable outbreak of future war." 

In Serbia itself, the repercussions of the Bosnian crisis were, as might 
have been expected, dramatic how dramatic we shall see in a later chap- 
ter. They were hardly less so in terms of the Dual Monarchy's internal 
strains and fissures. 

"When the Turk gets up from the Sick Man's bed, Austria will take 
his place," Albert Sorel, the French historian, had once predicted. The bed 
remained occupied, despite the Young Turk revolution, but in 1908 Austria 
moved at least into the same ward and unfortunately there was no inter- 
national quarantine for such contagious cases. 

It was in Germany, however, that Izvolsky's disingenuous bumbling, and 
Aehrenthal's self-defeating finesse, had the direst consequences. Forgetting 
Bismarck's advice about not tying the trim Prussian craft to the rotting 
Habsburg hulk, Bulow, with the Kaiser's approval and participation, had 
underwritten in advance Austria's patently suicidal Balkan policy. Mili- 
tarily, the whole character of the alliance between the two central empires 
was transformed. The decision taken by the German General Staff to sup- 
port Austria if she invaded Serbia, and Russia intervened, inevitably tended 
to crystallize German strategy in a fatal pattern. For Russia had an ally, 
France, who, though not bound in all circumstances, might join her in 
declaring war on the Dual Monarchy. In that case, where would Ger- 
many launch her first counterblows? This was the question raised by the 
Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff, General Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, 
in an exchange of letters with his German opposite number, General Hel- 
muth von Moltke, that he had initiated in January 1909. Moltke's reply 
had been brutally explicit: His plan was "to hurl the main body of the 
German forces first against France." 

Thus, as one courageous German editor put it, the defensive alliance ere- 


ated by Bismarck had turned into an offensive alliance by which "Germany 
with all her Pomeranian Grenadiers and all the rest of her panoply of war 
her entire army pledged herself to shed her blood for Austrian Balkan 
policy." Worse still, the decision to strike the first blow at France eliminated 
all hope of localizing an eventual conflict in southeastern Europe; any 
Balkan war involving Austria and Russia would automatically become a 
European war. And since a blow against a great, modern military power 
like France could only hope to succeed if it were delivered with stunning 
speed, Moltke's strategy based on the famous Schlieffen Plan 2 implied the 
minimum delay in mobilizing and concentrating his forces, and in launching 
them headlong across the French frontiers. Once set in motion, the German 
war machine could not be halted momentarily without compromising the 
Plan. This time factor virtually doomed in advance any diplomatic moves 
to avert war, after the crisis had reached a certain pitch. In our age, the 
time lag between "mobilization" and total war has for all practical pur- 
poses shortened to the countdown for firing a ballistic missile, but in pre- 
1914 Europe armies massed ponderously at the railheads and moved to 
battle by forced marches, the boots of their infantry and the caissons of their 
horse-drawn artillery echoing hour after hour through winding cobble- 
stone streets of sleepy border villages. There was a logistic interval between 
diplomatic crisis and military clash which left some opening, however slight, 
to last-minute peace-makers; the German General Staff, groping toward 
what twenty years later became the concept of blitzkrieg, had ominously 
narrowed the gap. To grasp fully the chilling implications of this situation, 
we must now take a closer look at the personality of Wilhelm n, the Su- 
preme War Lord, who, at least in theory, controlled the hair-trigger German 
military machine; at the same time let us note certain ominous new trends in 
the overenergized society that had produced both him and it. 

2 The Schlieffen Plan, named after its author, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, then 
chief of the German General Staff, was first drafted in 1899 and progressively elaborated 
over the next six years. It called essentially for a vast German offensive into northern 
France through Belgium whose neutrality would thus have to be violatedso as to 
achieve the partial envelopment of the main French armies and their destruction in 
a decisive battle. 


The Unlucky Brinkmanship of Wilhelm II 

the grand piano in many a plush-upholstered, velvet- 
hung German drawing room before the war there stood a 
court photograph of Kaiser Wilhelm II, framed in silver and autographed 
in his flamboyant, slightly hysterical scrawl. The portrait depicts the All- 
Highest in the uniform of a Grand Admiral of the German Navy, holding 
an outsize telescope under the left arm. Wilhelm is frowning sternly, chin 
stuck out, mustache martially twirled, his right hand resting on the gold 
braid of the belt, the other one grasping the hilt of the dress sword. Rows 
of medals cover the chest; coils of fourrageres entwine the shoulders. Every 
inch an Emperor, here stands the man whose motto was "Full Steam 

But a photograph, however official, never completely conceals reality. 
The jauntily cocked hat hides the Kaiser's graying hair; it cannot wholly dis- 
tract attention from the dispirited middle-aged sag of his jowls, tautened 
though they be by the virile thrust of the chin. The theatrical pose with 
the telescope shows that it is a prop, meant to camouflage the awkward 
twist of the left arm; to the instructed eye the tawdry print turns into a 
psychological X-ray plate that reveals a far deeper and more pitiable scar. 
Behind the posturing and the ranting which for years have made Wilhelm 
the enfant terrible of Europe, one catches a sudden glimpse of the crippled 
child he once had been, compulsively trying to attract notice from his 
mother, who stubbornly turns her face away in shame and cold distress. It 
is the expression of the eyes, however, that is the most striking feature of 
the Kaiser's favorite portrait. Something in the subject's fixed, almost hyp- 
notic gaze gives the lie to everything it is supposed to say. Under the mask 
of arrogant self-satisfaction there lurks a sickly doubt; breaking through the 


look of manly resolution one senses a dawning panic. The admiral stands 
on the bridge in his bravest uniform; the engines throb in proud obedience to 
his orders; but the rudder of his ship is jammed on a collision course, and 
he is just beginning to realize it. 

Whether or not the Kaiser really did suspect the truth and there is 
evidence more explicit than the portrait's to indicate that he did the 
nautical analogy is a fairly close one. Imperial Germany in the last years 
of peace actually was like a vessel headed full steam ahead for disaster, 
and no longer responsive to the helmsman's hand, or if one prefers the 
terrestrial simile of a British historian like a runaway locomotive. It is 
known approximately when the partial breakdown in the empire's control 
system took place the decisive accident seems to have occurred shortly 
after the Bosnian crisis of 1908-1909 and in a general way what went 
wrong. The apparent success for Germany's mailed-fist diplomacy that 
marked the end of the crisis was itself a factor of some importance. 

Wilhelm himself unquestionably bears part of the blame. His militaristic 
belligerence, his boasting and his verbal intemperance over the years had 
built up a public image of him which had hardened almost beyond revision. 
In certain respects it was a disastrously misleading image. Wilhelm was 
something of a bully, but he was far from being the furious war lord that 
the average newspaper reader in France, England, and Russia imagined him 
to be. Yet the mistake even if it was sometimes encouraged by chauvinist 
propagandists in these countries was natural. Ever since he had mounted 
the throne at the age of twenty-nine his martial impersonations had scan- 
dalized the royal courts of Europe, and given its foreign offices the jitters. 

As a young Emperor, Wilhelm had once presented the German Embassy 
in Paris with an oil portrait of himself, dressed in the black cuirasse of a 
Garde du Corps and brandishing a field marshal's baton, that was so in- 
cendiary it had caused an eminent French general to remark, "This por- 
trait is a declaration of war." 

Replying to the manifesto drawn up by the Hague Peace Conference of 
1898, the Kaiser had said: 

"Can we picture a supreme war lord disbanding his illustrious historic 
regiments . . . and thus delivering his cities over as a prey to anarchists 
and democrats?" 

"I trust in God and in my unsheathed sword," he had later exclaimed in 
more informal comment on the same conference, "and I ******* on 
all resolutions of international conferences." 

In 1905, a few days after President Emile Loubet of France, defying 
chauvinist opinion, had voiced his readiness to receive the Kaiser in Paris, 
Wilhelm had reciprocated this hospitable intent by delivering a speech to his 
army which concluded: 



1797- W 



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Louise m. Gnwd'Du'kz vfZaden 

Victoria mMolf Wtttemr Sophia mConstantme 

Of A.W79 Of 

Sehnumbttry- Gmce 

m. Almndm omr Joachim nM&rit Victoria Louise m.Ernt$t Augustus 
ofSchleswg- ofAnMt of Cumberland, 

Frederick Alexandrine Cecilia 


"The Order of the Day is : Keep your powder dry; keep your sword sharp; 
and keep your fist on the hilt." 

Above all there had been the memorable all-too-memorable speech to 
his marines, departing in 1900 to help put down the so-called Boxer Re- 
bellion in China, and to avenge the fanatics' massacre of Western diplo- 
mats, including the German Minister: 

"Give no quarter. Take no prisoners . , . Even as a thousand years ago 
when the Huns under King Attila made such a name for themselves as 
still resounds in terror ... so may the name of German resound through 
Chinese history for a thousand years . . . may you so conduct yourselves 
that no Chinaman will ever again so much as dare to look crooked at a 

It was perhaps a bit unsporting for Allied propagandists in two wars to 
pin the Hun label on Germany because the Kaiser had gone on an unusually 
disgraceful verbal binge in the course of a colonial expedition where Ger- 
many was allied with all the Occidental powers including the United States 
in defense of Western interests and civilization, but the anecdote is a good 
example of the effect often produced by Wilhelm's speeches on a scan- 
dalizedif sometimes hypocritically scandalized world. 1 

It was Germany's misfortune to have such a ruler at a time when the 
very appearance on the world stage of a new and vigorous latecomer was 
bound to arouse the resentment of the established powers. It was Wilhelm's 
misfortune to have every one of his boasts or threats underscored by 
possession of the most heavily equipped, best disciplined army in the world, 
by a navy second only to England's, by an aggressive commercial policy 
that threatened vested trade interests in all the markets of the world, and 
by an exuberant birthrate. Finally, it was the world's misfortune that Wil- 
helm's reign and Germany's bid for bloodless hegemony in Europe should 
have coincided with a kind of lopsided revolution in German society that 
swept away old restraints, while it sharpened ancient hungers; that re- 
enforced anachronistic political or social institutions while creating unrecog- 
nized and therefore irresponsible new forms of power. As indicated earlier, 
the critical years in this revolution were those between 1908 and 1914, but 
to understand fully what happened during this period, it is necessary to 
retrace the story of the Hohenzollern dynasty and of the Pomeranian bog 
which in less than three centuries they turned into a world power: Prussia. 

The Hohenzollern dynasty rose to fame and far-flung dominion at the 
head of a state which it fashioned from nothing. The kingdom of Prussia 

1 Among other extreme examples of Wilhelm's reckless use of language, he is 
cited as having once said to his American dentist: 
'Don't worry about hurting me; I never feel pain/' 


was their creation; the history of the dynasty and the history of Prussia are 

Before the sixteenth century, the word Prussia designated lands in north- 
west Poland, beyond the borders of the Empire, which had been conquered 
from a heathen Baltic people the Borussians in the early thirteenth cen- 
tury, and colonized ever since by a Germanic order of crusading knights. 
The Hohenzollerns were a family of feudal counts whose original keep in 
Swabia lay not far from that of the Habsburgs. In the fifteenth century they 
climbed several rungs in the feudal ladder by becoming Margraves of 
Brandenburg, in north Germany. Their conversion to the Reformed faith 
brought them as a reward the colonial territories which eventually gave 
their name to the Hohenzollern kingdom: In 1525 a Hohenzollern secu- 
larized (we would say liberated) the lands of the Teutonic Order of 
Knights and annexed them to his domains as the hereditary duchy of Prus- 
sia. By the seventeenth century the Hohenzollerns were the biggest land- 
owners in the Empire after the Habsburgs, though their estates were largely 
disconnected stretches of sandy waste, marshes, and somber pine forests. 
Situated east of the Elbe, for the most part, these were frontier lands, 
sparsely populated by the remnants of the Slavic tribes from whom they had 
been conquered, utterly remote from the civilization of Germany's free 
cities and princely courts. Such was the unpromising raw material from 
which sprang the Hohenzollern dream. 

Using as their agents the junkers ihe, baronial landowners of eastern 
Germany, stiff-necked but efficient autocrats of the turnip patch four am- 
bitious Hohenzollerns between the middle of the seventeenth century and 
ihe French Revolution created the new Prussian power. Frederick William, 
the Great Elector (1620-1688), merged the two Hohenzollern posses- 
sions, Brandenburg and Prussia, into a single administrative unit, though 
they did not yet have a common frontier. His successor, Frederick I, was a 
bit frivolous, by Hohenzollern standards, but he nonetheless talked the 
Emperor into recognizing Prussia as a kingdom. Frederick William I, the 
"Sergeant King," forged the Prussian Army as a precision tool of con- 
quest His son, Frederick the Great (1740-1786), put the tool to work; by 
ruthlessness and generalship he defeated the combined armies of most of 
Europe, knit his scattered realms into a strong, coherent nation and pro- 
vided it with an industrial base by wresting the Silesian coal basin from the 
Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. 

Militarism was a Hohenzollern attribute from the beginning, for power' 
alone could hold together a state, built from the top down, which had no 
historic basis, no riches of its own and hardly a population (the Hohenzol- 
lerns were obliged to colonize their lands by encouraging immigration). 
"All my subjects are born to be soldiers," the Sergeant King had said in 
decreeing compulsory military service for Prussia. It was a natural attitude 


for the ruler of a state which had created its subjects instead of having been 
created by them. 

The barracks room and the parade ground put their stamp of harsh effi- 
ciency not only on the Prussian Army and civil service but on the Prussian 
tradition of education, and thereby on the Prussian character. As an adoles- 
cent, the Hohenzollern prince who was to become Frederick the Great had 
been an undisciplined dilettante with artistic leanings; his father licked him 
into shape with a long term of imprisonment, and by beheading one of the 
youthful companions of his escapades before his eyes. Frederick retained 
enough of his early enthusiasm for the life of the mind to convert it into a 
valuable public relations asset in an age of enlightenment the friendship 
with Voltaire and the concerts at Sans Souci, that creampuff imitation of 
the Trianon, strongly appealed to the imagination of his contemporaries 
but in adult life he never forgot that for a Hohenzollern ruler there could 
be only one aim, one preoccupation, one recreation the making of Prussia. 

The story of Frederick's education reveals not only the brutality but the 
artificiality of the Prussian tradition. Both to its riders and to the elites 
who served them, Prussia was an obsessive ambition rather than an ideal; 
its service was a compulsion rather than a dedication. Frederick the Great 
was himself a typical victim of this Moloch tradition. "I will sustain my 
power or let everything perish, so that even the name of Prussia shall be 
buried with me," he exclaimed at a particularly critical moment in his ca- 
reer. The words have a sinister twentieth-century ring, and their note of al- 
most hysterical commitment to a mission beyond one's strength has in fact 
been a recurrent theme in twentieth-century German history, 

Frederick died three years before the French Revolution broke out. His 
immediate successors, by first appeasing Napoleon and then surrendering to 
him, helped to deliver Germany into the Corsican adventurer's crafty grip. 
It was Napoleon who was the original, if inadvertent, artisan of German 
unity he suppressed no less than 300 petty German sovereignties and the 
French armies of occupation which were the begetters of German na- 

"Vivat Teutonia," was the rallying cry which in 1813 led the German 
people in the war of liberation against Napoleon. After the Congress of 
Vienna, however, the ideas of German unity and constitutional reform 
which this slogan had implied were no longer fashionable. Prussia became 
a member in good standing of the Holy Alliance and for a brief period the 
Hohenzollerns resumed their place as deferential seconds to the imperial 
Habsburg dynasty. When in 1848 the German liberals, ignoring their vari- 
ous sovereigns, called a constitutional assembly in Frankfurt and offered 
the Prussian King the crown of a reorganized and united Germany, he re- 
fused it. What was a crown conferred by a gaggle of excited professors 
who purported to represent the popular will? <4 Mud and wood/' scoffed the 


King of Prussia. The Parliament of Frankfurt was dissolved, short-lived 
revolts in various German states Prussia among them were snuffed out, 
and the old order was restored. 

Not for long, however. Strong material as well as idealistic forces sup- 
ported the trend toward German unification. Economic ties and a remark- 
able railway network, fostered by a customs union gradually spreading all 
over Germany, but excluding Austria, were setting a new pattern. Prussia, 
as the largest, most populated, and most industrialized of the German 
states, was in the lead of the movement; soon it was ready to seize political 
leadership as well. 

German unity was finally achieved by a Hohenzollern, the grandfather 
of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and it was done in true Prussian style: from above, 
without reference to the popular will, in the fire of three wars, and for the 
greater glory of Prussia. 

Wilhelm I was a man of sixty-four when he succeeded to the crown of 
Prussia. He was a Hohenzollern of the austere, thrifty, and soldierly type 
who believed that Prussia belonged at the head of Germany, that only 
power could put her there, and that all power was rooted in a good army. 
Four years of ruthless dictatorship were needed to ram the necessary mili- 
tary reforms down the Prussian parliament's throat. The dictator was the 
Iron Chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck, who was called in for the pur- 
pose in 1862 and who for the next twenty-eight years dominated Prussia, 
Germany, his king, and European politics. The aims of this great hulk of a 
man, blunt to the point of rudeness, Prussian to the marrow, were cynically 
explicit. "The great problems of our times will not be resolved by speeches 
and majority decisions," he scoffingly told the Prussian Landtag, "but by 
iron and blood." It took Bismarck six years and three wars to reach his 

After the Austrian rout at Sadowa had shattered the Habsburg bid for 
German hegemony, a North German confederation, excluding Austria, 
was formed under the leadership of a Prussia, enormously swollen by the 
arbitrary annexation of various German and Danish duchies and kingdoms. 
Twenty-one German states adhered to this confederation, but it was still 
necessary to bring to heel the four South German states Hesse-Darmstadt, 
Baden, Wurttemberg, and Bavaria who did not consider Prussian leader- 
ship as an unmixed blessing. 

Bismarck was convinced and later made no bones about saying so 
that the rift between the northern and southern German states could best 
be healed by "a national war against the neighbor people, our age-old ag- 
gressor (France)." With the help of a doctored press report the famous 
"Dispatch from Ems," an early classic in the manipulation of mass media- 
he maneuvered the French Emperor, Napoleon III, into declaring war on 
Prussia. All the German states rallied to Prussia's defense in a national 


crusade, and three months later the victorious German armies were be- 
sieging Paris, where the republic had been proclaimed. German might, 
German unity, and Prussian hegemony all received a memorable consecra- 
tion at Versailles on January 18, 1871; the German Empire, including all the 
German states and the freshly annexed French provinces of Alsace and 
Lorraine, was solemnly proclaimed in Louis XIV's Hall of Mirrors, and 
the King of Prussia became Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm I. 

In assuming the Imperial crown on a hereditary basis the Hohenzollerns 
retained the royal crown of Prussia; they never supplanted the reigning 
dynasties of the lesser German states who, as we shall see later, remained 
significant elements in the fabric of German society. 

The new German Reich, as fashioned by its architect, Bismarck, was a 
confederation, and its constitution sought to strike a balance between the 
sovereignty of the four kingdoms, five grand duchies, thirteen duchies or 
principalities and the three free cities which composed it, and the popular 
representation of a united Germany. The states were represented in the 
Federal Council (Bundesrath) which initiated laws and could alter the con- 
stitution by a two-thirds majority. In the Bundesrath, however, Prussia, as 
the most populous of the states, held 17 out of the 43 seats, so that in effect 
this body was gradually reduced to a distinguished debating society. The 
states had kept their own constitutions, parliaments, electoral laws, local 
taxes, and administered their educational and religious affairs, but they 
had relinquished to the federal government, headed by the King of Prussia 
who was also the Emperor of the Reich, diplomacy, the Army, and the 
Navy. Communications, external commerce and customs were also in the 
hands of the Imperial government. 

In the Reichstag sat the representatives of the people, elected by uni- 
versal suffrage (not universal enough, however, to include anyone on the 
dole, and dependent on electoral laws which were rigged to favor the con- 
servative and agricultural vote). The Reichstag had only limited control 
over the Imperial government; it could do little except refuse to authorize 
expenditures other than those permanently authorized by the Constitution. 

The Kaiser had supreme executive power. He was Commander-in-Chief 
of the Imperial Army and Navy. He governed through a chancellor, named 
and dismissed by him, responsible to him alone. The state secretaries under 
the chancellor were glorified office boys. It was the chancellor's task to act 
as buffer between the Kaiser and the Reichstag: he usually got his way with 
the latter by playing off the three conservative parties against one another. 
The opposition was represented by the Social-Democrats, and by the rep- 
resentatives of various small national groups such as the Danes, the Poles, 
and the population of Alsace-Lorraine. The great German parties repre- 
sented interests rather than ideas, their attitude on the whole was one of 
respect for authority. In any case, whenever they proved troublesome, the 


chancellor could, and did, dissolve the Reichstag, as in 1906 when the 
Catholics and the Socialists objected to his colonial administration and re- 
fused to vote credits. 

The Prussian constitution, and the Empire's, remarked Wilhelm's biogra- 
pher, Emil Ludwig, "were a tissue of contradictions." Responsibility 
moved from King to Chancellor-Premier, and then "back on the King, 
until in the inextricable meshes it disappeared once and for all. Actually 
no one in Prussia or in Germany was responsible in the democratic sense 
which today prevails in all European countries. In very truth, the Emperor 
King was absolute," said Ludwig, the only limit on his authority the right 
of the Houses to deny supplies. 

Undoubtedly the German constitutional labyrinth, by the opportunities it 
offered for evading democratic controls, exposed its rulers in the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries to the anachronistic temptations of eighteenth-cen- 
tury autocracy. Neither the authoritarian traditions of the Hohenzollern 
family nor the kind of bringing-up to which he was subjected, had pre- 
pared Wilhelm II to resist these temptations. His failure to do so was to 
have tragic consequences both for Germany and for Wilhelm himself. 

The future Wilhelm H-christened Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert was 
born at Potsdam, the Prussian Versailles, in 1859. His father was Prince 
Friedrich of Prussia, eldest son of the Crown Prince. Little Fritz, as he was 
known in the family, got off to a dolorous and unpromising start in life. 
His mother, Princess Victoria, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the reign- 
ing British Victoria, was ashamed of her sickly first-born, and resented the 
German doctors who could not cure his paralyzed left arm, as she resented 
generally the deplorably un-English ways of her husband's family. The 
marriage had not been exactly a misalliance Friedrich, after all, had 
"prospects" but Queen Victoria's daughter could hardly be dazzled by the 
possibility that her husband might one day inherit the crown of Prussia, one 
of those upstart little Continental powers, even if the most important one in 

Wilhelm was two years old when his grandfather, the Crown Prince, 
succeeded to the throne of Prussia as Wilhelm I. He was twelve when the 
same grandfather stood in his defeated enemy's palace at Versailles and 
assumed the Imperial crown. He therefore saw the drama of German uni- 
fication acted out before his eyes with all its sordid aspects deleted like 
some Arthurian epic brought to date. Its hero, of course, was the Prussian 
warrior-king, the victor of Sadowa and Sedan, Wilhelm I. The shining figure 
of the tall, upright, awesomely remote old Emperor-grandfather was the 
one bright beacon in a joyless childhood. Wilhelm resented his parents, 
especially his mother, who reserved her pallid affection for her other, 
healthier children; her rejection of him undoubtedly helped to mold the 


ambivalent feelings toward England that he later manifested. The child- 
hood traumatisms of hereditary rulers inevitably have a political frame of 
reference not to mention political consequences; Wilhelm's martial swag- 
gering after he became Kaiser was at least in part an attempt to act out on 
the stage of twentieth-century Europe the fantasies of martial derring-do, 
based on an idealized version of his grandfather's exploits, that had peo- 
pled the picture-book universe of his unhappy boyhood. 

The bitter struggle to overcome his physical handicap and to dominate 
his unhealthy nerves, to become the stoic, stiff-backed Prussian youth that 
his ancestors-especially his grandfather expected him to be, further 
helped to warp Wilhelm's character. He learned to grit his teeth, as a Prus- 
sian boy should, during the painful electric treatments that failed to im- 
prove his arm, and to goose-step with the little junkers during cadet-drill 
in a Guards regiment, but the relative success of his efforts encouraged the 
tendency to arrogance and bombast he later manifested so unfortunately, 
(And as usually happens in such cases, under the tough, braggart shell 
there continued to lurk a weak, timorous, childishly dependent creature.) 
A victim, as he thought, of his mother's "English" and his father's "liberal" 
ideas, he was sent to study with common mortals at the lyceum (high 
school) in KasseL Conceit being no substitute for work, he was graduated 
tenth in a class of seventeen, with the sober comment "satisfactory." Al- 
though his intellectual gifts were much above average, his tutors and their 
charge heaved a simultaneous sigh of relief, when, after two years at the 
University in Bonn where he studied constitutional law and political econ- 
omy, he devoted himself to the life of a Guards officer. 

It was hi the mess room, with his Prussian fellow officers, that young 
Hohenzollern felt happiest in the mess room or on the parade ground rid- 
ing at the head of his regiment. One of his proudest memories was standing, 
at the age of eighteen, in front of the old Emperor in the newly conferred 
mantle of the Most Noble Company of the Black Eagle, swearing to "main- 
tain the honour of the Royal House, and to guard the Royal privileges." 

He made it abundantly clear that he was determined to keep his oath. 
Emil Ludwig relates that, while still a prince, Wilhelm was in the habit of 
giving birthday presents of his own bust, and that he sent to England a 
photograph of himself under which he wrote "7 bide my time" This did not 
make him welcome at home, where the family atmosphere was increasingly 
soured by his father's impatience with the insipid duties of a perennial 
Crown Prince, so that he was no more amused than his mother was with 
Wilhelm's increasing pushiness. 

At the age of twenty-three Wilhelm married Princess Augusta Victoria 
of Schleswig-Holstein. A handsome girl of simple and pious upbringing, 
she became the self-effacing, admiring wife which a Prussian pater-f amilias 
required. She gave Wilhelm six sons who were brought up in the stern 


Hohenzollern tradition Friedrich Wilhelm, who as Crown Prince was to 
play a significant role in German public life, Eitel Friedrich, Adalbert, 
Augustus Wilhelm, Oscar, and Joachim. There was also one daughter, Vic- 
toria Louise, whose penwipers, bookmarkers, and embroidered slippers 
graced the Kaiser's gift table on every January 27 when the Court cele- 
brated his birthday. This was usually the date when the Berlin season be- 
gan and the purple pennant flew from the ugly, square gray Schloss the 
royal palace in the capital to indicate that the All Highest was in resi- 
dence. Home, to the Royal Family, was first the Marble Palace, then the 
rococo New Palace in Potsdam, pleasantly surrounded by gardens. But 
there were frequent and cumbersome moves to outlying country estates and 
hunting lodges where Wilhelm could indulge in his passion for vigorous 
hiking wife, children, governesses, and courtiers puffing in the rear, willy- 
nilly cook-outs and organized massacres of stags, boar, and wildbirds. 
His favorite spot was the hunting lodge at Rominten, in East Prussia, a 
huge log cabin with gingerbread adornments and neo-Gothic interior 
decoration. After he became Emperor he designed an official hunting cos- 
tume, prescribed for all his guests at Rominten: green coat and britches, 
high tan boots, a tan leather belt with a hunting knife hanging from it, a 
jaunty felt hat adorned with pheasant feathers or the beard of a gemsbock. 
Although he jibed at his uncle Edward VII as a "silly old peacock," Wil- 
helm was something of a dandy himself. His wardrobe, tended by twelve 
full-time valets, contained more than two hundred military uniforms. Like 
his latter-day imitator, the Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering, the Kaiser 
had an almost compulsive belief in the importance of fitting his costume to 
the occasion; when he attended a performance of The Flying Dutchman 
at the Berlin Opera he put on his grand admiral's uniform; in Palestine 
except when dressed as a Bedouinhe wore a white cloak adorned with a 
Crusader's cross; he was once dissuaded with great difficulty from dressing 
as a Roman general to inaugurate a museum of antiquities. 

Wilhelm, when he was in the bosom of his family and both as Crown 
Prince and as Kaiser he was away a great deal led the stodgy bourgeois 
existence followed in most royal courts of the day. His wife, who divided 
her time between her children and good works, was mentioned in his 
speeches as "the shining jewel at my side! The embodiment of all the virtues 
proper to a German princess/' These virtues were summarized in the words 
"Kinder, Kirche, Kuche>" and they were unquestionably dull. Irreverent 
Berlin wags sometimes referred to Wilhelm's jewel as die Kirchengustl 
the Church Gussie. Evenings in the family circle had a heavy Teutonic 
quality; the Kaiserin sewing, the Kaiser reading dispatches and clippings, 
often aloud, the suppressed yawns of the ladies-in-waiting and of the 
courtiers. In true Prussian fashion, Papa's most often repeated remark to 
Mama was, "You don't understand these things." Naturally, he was glad 


to escape whenever he could. It is perhaps too bad that Wilhelm's strict 
Lutheran principles-and the Kaiserin's sharp eye-kept him from relieving 
the tedium of married life as his British Uncle Bertie did; his reign might 
have been less hectic. 

As a young man he preferred the congenial atmosphere of the Guards 
Club, which also kept him away a great deal from the sterner necessities of 
training for his future job under the guidance of Bismarck. It seemed as if 
the training were due to go on forever. The old Emperor lived on and on, 
until it began to appear that he would outlive his son, Wilhelm's father. In 
the spring of 1887 the hapless Crown Prince developed cancer of the 
throat. When he came back posthaste from San Remo in Italy, where he 
was trying to keep alive, to be present at the old Emperor's death, he was 
already completely speechless. At the funeral he rode in a closed carriage, 
while Wilhelm, who had been flexing his muscles with increasing impa- 
tience, strode at the head of all the princes through the mourning multi- 

He did not have long to wait, and when his father died on June 15, 1888, 
three months later, he was ready. The day before he had garrisoned the 
palace with his men, and as soon as the king was dead, sentries challenged 
everyone who entered or left; Wilhelm had long suspected his mother of 
transferring vital papers for safekeeping to England. He ordered an autopsy 
of his father's body, so as to humiliate his mother, who had denied until the 
last days that her husband's illness was cancer. 

The Wilhelmine era opens with two characteristic proclamations. The 
one to the Army contains these words: "You will soon swear fealty and 
submission to me, and I promise ever to bear in mind that from the world 
above the eyes of my forefathers look down upon me, and that I shall have 
one day to stand accountable to them for the glory and honour of the 
Army/' The other proclamation, issued a day later and addressed to the 
German people, strikes the same note. "Summoned to the throne of my 
fathers, it is with eyes raised to the King of Kings that I assume the scep- 
tre . , ." The cast of Wilhelm's rhetoric is set It is one in which the word 
God recurs regularly. For Wilhelm, who compared his grandfather to 
Charlemagne, had no doubts about the sanctity of his own crown. That 
there was a shrill, parvenu note in his constant reiterations of the Divine 
Right of Kings was only natural. His was an upstart dynasty. Six centuries 
of absolutism flowed in the Austrian Emperor's veins; God's approval of 
the Habsburgs was so obvious that it did not have to be incessantly in- 
voked. But the German Kaiser evidently felt more comfortable when he 
could bring his Celestial Ally into the picture. As in a Renaissance painting, 
God is usually hovering in the upper third of the background, in the same 
cloud as the revered ancestors, while Wilhelm, sword in hand, is slaying 
dragons in the forefront. Later, the Kaiser became so convinced of his 


direct communication with the Almighty that he would read the office on 
Sunday morning, and sometimes even preach a sermon, to his long-suffer- 
ing guests aboard the Hohenzollern. 

Wilhelm had the theory that most of humanity's progress was the work 
of ten great geniuses specially chosen by God for the purpose: Hammurabi, 
Moses, Abraham, Homer, Charlemagne, Luther, Shakespeare, Goethe, 
Kant and Kaiser Wilhelm I. There is little doubt that he considered himself 
as belonging to the same select company. 

"Inasmuch as I regard myself as an instrument of Heaven," the Kaiser 
once declared in a speech at Koenigsberg, "I go my way without regard to 
the events or opinions of the day." 

Though Wilhelm was probably in some respects a genuinely religious 
man, it did not always seem clear from his utterances just who was the 
senior partner in his unique relationship with God. As his official biogra- 
pher, Joachim von Kuerenberg, points out, the Kaiser was always careful 
to write both "Sein" (His), with reference to the Deity, and "Uein" (My), 
in alluding to himself, with capital letters. "This morning the All-Highest 
paid his respects to the Highest," the Court Circular is alleged to have 
reported one Sunday. 

Wilhelm not only professed the anachronistic doctrine of the Divine 
Right of Kings in defiance of the German and Prussian Constitutions but 
gave it a neoabsolutist twist that sometimes resembled the royal totali- 
tarianism of Louis XIV. 

"Regis voluntas, supremo, lex" (The King's will is the highest law), he 
wrote in the golden-book of Munich's city hall, during a visit to Bavaria in 

"K it should ever come to pass that the City of Berlin revolts against its 
monarch," the Kaiser once warned his sullen subjects, "the Guards will 
avenge with their bayonets the disobedience of a people to its King." 

Naturally, Wilhelm had a poor view both of parliamentary institutions 
and of parliamentarians, whom he referred to as "those owls, those mut- 
tonheads." Curiously, the most effective resistance to Hohenzollern ab- 
solutism, both in and out of parliament, came not from the Socialists, but 
the right; from the very junkers who formed the Prussian governing class, 
and above all from the reigning dynasties and the nobility of the minor 
German states. The princely courts were picturesque survivals of the past 
which undoubtedly slowed down the development of German democracy, 
but at the same time they stood out as beacons of sanity and of traditional 
German culture in the gathering Wagnerian murk of Wilhelmine Germany. 

"Let Bavaria protest against the reproach that she ought to look on it 
as a favor to be allowed to belong to the Reich," the Prince Regent Luit- 
pold of Bavaria warned the Kaiser in 1900. ". , . we wish to be regarded, 
not as minors, but as brothers of full age." 


The conflicts between Wilhelm and his brother-dynasts in Germany 
were not invariably over lofty principlesloyal subjects of Grand Duke 
Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenberg-Strelitz never forgave the All-Highest for 
having given their young ruler a playful but Imperial smack on the be- 
hind in the officers' mess of the Guard Uhlans but they helped to remind 
him that the Divine Grace in the name of which he claimed supreme power 
was not a Hohenzollern monopoly. 

Like his cousin Nicholas II of Russia, and his friend Abdul Hamid II of 
Turkey, Wilhelm II was a firm believer in personal rule. So was Bismarck, 
but the Kaiser and his Iron Chancellor did not have the same person in 
mind. A clash was inevitable between the old Prussian dictator and the 
imperious young autocrat in whose name he exercised the dictatorship. It 
finally came in March 1890 over the issue of the Kaiser's right to bypass 
the chancellor in dealing with his ministers and after a tense, ten-day 
crisis Bismarck was persuaded to resign. 

"The duty of watch-keeping officer in the ship of State has now de- 
volved upon me/' Wilhelm proclaimed in a triumphant speech. "The course 
remains as it was! Full steam ahead!" 

In the mouth of a responsible, dedicated ruler such lordly words might 
inspire reluctant respect. But Wilhelm was an amateur, with an amateur's 
dislike of hard work and real responsibility. His neurotic traits, the love- 
hate complex which he transferred from his mother to England, his per- 
petual discordant whistling in the dark, have been recorded and analyzed 
by all his earlier biographers. More recently published evidence confirms 
the verdict. The memoirs, published in 1959, of the Kaiser's naval chef de 
cabinet, Admiral Georg Alexander von Muller, a member of what was 
known as the court camarilla, point up Wilhelm's pathological unrest, his 
lack of discipline and self-control, his incapacity for doing a systematic job 
of work. Did the Kaiser Govern? is the book's suggestive title. Muller, who 
lived in his intimacy for nearly fifteen years, describes the Kaiser as a lonely 
man, with no true friends, but one who could not bear to be without a con- 
stant swarm of courtiers, sycophants, and cronies. 

Wilhelm reigned in a hothouse atmosphere carefully tended by his en- 
tourage who managed him like a hysterical prima donna, coddling and 
deceiving him in turn. The tone was set by the Kaiser's bosom friend, Count 
Philipp zu Eulenburg, alias Phili, an occasional diplomat, drawing-room 
poet, singer of ballads, fluent in the fashionable Wagnerian jargon. He was 
twelve years older than Wilhelm, and it is something of a surprise to come 
on a photograph of him that reveals a bearded, shifty-eyed, elderly beau, 
for he was renowned for his distinguished languor and perverse charm. 
(A charm that did not work on Bismarck, who said he had "eyes that 
would spoil the best breakfast.") 

"The Prince's affection for me was an ardent one ... my musical per- 


formances drove him into almost feverish raptures," Eulenburg records in 
his memoirs, speaking of his early relations with Wilhelm. 

The effeminate, gushing sentimentality so glaringly evident in the rela- 
tionship between Wilhelm, Eulenburg, and at times Bulow, was the fashion- 
able tone in society friendships, when the new century was ushering in art 
nouveau. The wave of bad taste which all over Europe was twisting furni- 
ture like plasticine, bloating stone monstrously, filtering daylight through 
colored glass and electric light through silk and beads, put out blossoms of a 
particularly lurid mauve in Germany. Foreign diplomats whispered that 
Berlin was as full of scandals as Tiberius's Rome. Friedrich Alfred Krupp's 
death in Capri in 1902 was whispered to be suicide. "He did so like hand- 
some young waiters," people tittered. The King of Wurttemberg's boon 
companion was a mechanic, and had not poor, mad King Ludwig of Ba- 
varia, before drowning himself and his psychiatrist, given his coachman 
the prerogatives of a chancellor? And wasn't the Berlin chief of police a bit 
that way himself . . . ? As for the Kaiser, it all depends upon whether you 
look at him with a clinical or with a moralizing eye; even his harshest 
critics admit that these heliotrope-scented friendships of his were as blame- 
less as they were peculiar. 

High personages managed for years to dodge the notorious article 175 
in the penal code, which dealt with what for a time became known as the 
"German vice," but after 1906 a series of politically inspired press cam- 
paigns ushered in a wave of puritanism. Poor Eulenburg, no worse than 
most, but more exposed, was embroiled by his enemies into a number of 
law suits. Finally in 1908 he was tried for homosexuality. A hypochondriac 
all his life, he was carried on a stretcher into court, where his relations with 
a Bavarian fisherman, twenty years earlier, were exposed as an example of 
his perversions. As a result Phili, whom many accused of influencing the 
Kaiser toward pacifism, was dropped by Willy suddenly and completely. 

Eulenburg owed his disgrace to the machinations of another member of 
the Kaiser's entourage, Baron Friedrich von Holstein, the mysterious gray 
eminence of the Wilhelmstrasse, who from Bismarck's dismissal until 1906 
ran Germany's foreign policy. Ranking as a privy councilor, but with no 
formal responsibilities, Holstein, a tall, bearded man in an undertaker's 
frock coat, sat entrenched in an obscure office which contained, it was be- 
lieved, card files on everyone who was anybody in Berlin. Lurking in vol- 
untary obscurity, he was at the center of a web of intrigue by which he 
controlled Germany's relation with the exterior world. Ambassadors and 
ministers who came to Berlin saw Holstein first, as a matter of course. His 
telegrams and letters were acted on, and many official reports were marked 
"private for Baron Holstein"; important papers were often unavailable be- 
cause the Baron had locked them up. Holstein shunned all social contacts 
(eating oysters and playing the stock exchange were among his rare pleas- 


ures), disdained official recognition, and consented to see the Kaiser only 
once, because he dreaded responsibility as a mole dreads daylight. He liked 
to elaborate policy with his rare cronies in a discreet but luxurious wine 
cellar, and had pronounced paranoid tendencies; he never went out un- 
armed, and, after office hours, practiced revolver shooting in an obscure 
gallery. Eulenburg, for many years his friend, provided a link between him 
and the Kaiser, but Holstein came to hate him for not being subservient 
enough, and was convinced that Eulenburg was responsible for his dis- 
missal in 1906. 

Eulenburg represents the classic type of court parasite that surreptitiously 
drains power from its host; Holstein was a primitive example of a new 
twentieth-century phenomenon: the anonymous servant of state who, with- 
out formal authority, wields tremendous power, because he alone possesses 
the specialized knowledge upon which power-decisions in the modern 
world must be based. In Metternich's day premiers and even monarchs 
could easily function as their own foreign ministers, and foreign ministers 
carried their planning staffs, their research departments, and their area 
experts under their own powdered wigs. By the end of Bismarck's tenure, 
however, the age of the specialist was beginning to dawn; rulers whether 
by Divine Right or by the People's willmight proclaim decisions, but 
more and more it was getting to be the experts who actually made them. 
The problem of establishing controls over the specialists, which is an acute 
one for present-day democracies, was no less acute for early twentieth- 
century autocracies, but it was as yet unrecognized; the nominal masters 
and the masterful servants had not learned to live with each other. The 
executive "Indian" stalked undetected, and therefore untamed, through the 
rapidly growing thickets of bureaucracy. The monarchs and the ministers 
of the Old World looked like nincompoops, not only because they often 
were, but because they felt obliged to claim an encyclopedic competence 
that they could no longer be reasonably expected to possess. 

The role of the Kaiser in the Moroccan crisis of 1905 throws some 
light on the true relationship between the nominal autocrat and the diplo- 
matic specialists whom he thought of as the humble executors of his august 
policies, Germany had been a party to the international covenant which 
set up the statute of Morocco. When in exchange for a free hand in Egypt, 
the French obtained British support for a policy of French supremacy in 
Morocco, the Germans had a legitimate cue for another sensational per- 
formance by the Kaiser, although this time he was not a willing actor. On 
March 31, 1905, reluctantly carrying out the suggestion of his advisers, he 
interrupted a Mediterranean cruise long enough to land at Tangier, mount 
an Arab steed and proclaim Germany's support of an independent Morocco 
whose Sultan was to safeguard German interests there. This slap at France 
was planned by Billow and Holstein with a double motive: the wodd must 


be shown that Germany could not be ignored when it came to dividing 
colonial spoils, but more important still, France must be scared out of 
relying on the Entente Cordiale. France's ally, Russia, was hopelessly tied 
up in the Far Eastern war; the moment was favorable for vindicating Ger- 
man honor and raising German prestige. 

The Kaiser needed some convincing* He had no desire to antagonize 
France, and the whole enterprise seemed hazardous he was not a man 
who disregarded his personal safety easily. On the fateful day, the sea was 
rough, and he stepped into the bobbing motor launch with the greatest mis- 
givings. Arriving on shore wet and queazy, he found that he was expected 
to ride into Tangier on a mount whose fiery appearance was disquieting 
Wilhelm's lame arm made him shy of strange horses. His nervousness was 
increased by the presence in the crowd of ruffianly looking individuals 
whom his secret service described as Spanish anarchists. Amid the welcom- 
ing din of rifle fire from whirling Arab horsemen, Wflhelm delivered his 
speech, not to the Sultan, but to the Sultan's uncle. Then he returned to his 
ship as fast as possible. 

The worldwide sensation did little to mollify him, nor did a letter of com- 
mendation from Biilow. 

"I shook with fear. When the news reached me that your Majesty had 
come away alive out of Tangier, I broke down and sat weeping at my desk 
while I uttered a thanksgiving to Heaven," the chancellor wrote. When his 
master objected, a bit plaintively, that he still could not see the point of the 
whole thing, Biilow replied that it was necessary for his (Billow's) policy. 
He had thrown down a gauntlet to challenge the French. He wanted to see, 
he wrote, 'Vhether they would mobilize." 

Perhaps the most striking illustration of the complex internal power- 
situation in Wilhelmine Germany was in the relations between the Supreme 
War Lord and his Army. The eighteenth-century Hohenzollerns had been 
virtually their own chiefs of staff, at times their own drill sergeants. Wilhelm 
had been brought up in this tradition of personal command, considerably 
distorted by his boyhood fantasies about his grandfather's role in the wars 
of German unification. As a young man he had a fairly thorough ground- 
ing in tactics, command, and administration up to the regimental level. As 
Kaiser he was prepared to carry out his constitutional duties as Com- 
mander-in-Chief in the most literal sense. 

"I don't need a general staff," he explained to one of his generals (though 
some historians suspect the anecdote is apocryphal). "I can handle every- 
thing myself, with my aides-de-camp." 

Naturally, the Imperial General Staff, a professional aristocracy within 
an aristocracy, did not share the Kaiser's optimism. His mania for design- 
ing new uniforms and insignia was a constant minor source of irritation to 


the Army, and his meddling at maneuvers was such a nuisance that on one 
occasion the General Staff pretexted measles at headquarters to keep him 
away. The little anecdote has symbolic significance. The harder the Kaiser 
tried to play the anachronistic role of soldier-king, the more determined 
the General Staff became to deny the Commander-in-Chief any share in the 
decision-making process, when vital issues were at stake. 

Wilhelm's attempts to govern in accordance with the doctrines of eight- 
eenth-century autocracy were subtly distorted and at times nullified by 
the emergence during his reign of other new patterns of power. One was 
the influence of monopoly capitalism, a by-product of Germany's prodi- 
gious industrial growth after unification. Before 1870 Germany had been 
primarily an agricultural region; by 1914 it had become an industrial power 
on a level with Great Britain or the United States. Here is a contemporary 
description of the great Krupp works at Essen, the spearhead of German 
economic might: 

"... a great city within a city, with its own streets, its own police force, 
fire department and traffic laws. There are 150 kilometres of rail, 60 dif- 
ferent factory buildings, 8500 machine tools, seven electrical stations, 140 
km. of underground cables and 46 overhead. More than 41,000 workers 
are employed there." 

The sole owner of this vast concern the most important supplier of 
artillery and other weapons to the German Army was Friedrich Alfred 
Krupp, the head of a dynasty whose role in shaping the nation's destiny 
sometimes seemed second only to that of the Hohenzollerns. At the Essen 
works and in his other enterprises Krupp employed a total of 78,334 men 
and women. The great German industrial barons displayed in some re- 
spects more social sense than those contemporary "malefactors of great 
wealth" in the United States whom Teddy Roosevelt had castigated; at least 
they had accepted without too much grumbling Bismarck's paternalistic 
version of the welfare state, which had made the Prussian worker the most 
privileged from a material viewpoint in Europe. On the other hand, the 
concentration of economic power untrammeled by anti-trust legislation 
or restraints on lobbying in the hands of a few families or closely related 
interest-groups had reached an extreme pitch in prewar Germany. Expos6s 
of this hypertrophic German and European capitalism by contemporary 
Marxist and other muckrakers, including Lenin, have supplied anticapi- 
talist propaganda with ammunition to this day (and many of the attacks 
would be unanswerable if the capitalism that now prevails in the great 
Western democracies were the same as the capitalism they attacked) . The 
"Internationale of cannon-makers" which figured prominently in pacifist 
and Marxist folklore between the two wars dates back in good part to 


Wilhelmine Germany, and beneath the legends there is a stratum of hard 

In 1913, for example, the left-wing Social-Democrat deputy Karl Lieb- 
knecht threw the German Reichstag into an uproar with a heavily docu- 
mented expos6 of the more sordid factors underlying the mounting inter- 
national tension in Europe. He painted a lurid picture of ". . . the greatest 
armaments factory in the world bribing war-office employees; of most con- 
fidential state documents straying by mysterious means into the safe of an 
assistant director of the Krupp works; of a great illustrated paper in Leipzig 
collaborating with representatives of the General Staff and of the muni- 
tions makers to bring out a special supplement in support of a pending bill 
for new military appropriations; of the director of a weapons factory 
. . . feeding the most violent diatribes against France to the Pan-German 
newspaper Die Post, and then with stupefying Machiavellism, after hav- 
ing aroused French opinion with provocations in the German press, using 
these same bellicose articles in the French press to push Germany toward 

Liebknechfs jeremiad was perhaps too sweeping, but it calls attention to 
another important, and at the time largely unrecognized, factor in shaping 
the basic decisions of national policy that the Kaiser assumed were the 
effects of His august will: the role of patriotic pressure groups (they were 
not called pressure groups in those days, of course, but we can easily iden- 
tify them in the light of our own subsequent experience with this charac- 
teristic phenomenon of twentieth-century public life) . There were several 
powerful, interlocking organizations working toward the same broad ends. 
The most important ones were the Pan-German League, the Colonial So- 
ciety, and, above all, the Navy League backed of course by the maritime 
and armaments lobbies which both exploited and were exploited by the 
Secretary of the Navy Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. This fateful personage, 
a tall, thick-set, overbearing Prussian with a flowing two-pronged beard, 
became the dominant figure in the German government for some years 
after 1897. He had little difficulty in convincing the Kaiser that a great 
navy was essential to a great power, and with the All-Highest's blessing 
launched the patriotic societies on an intensive propaganda campaign to 
make the nation conscious of the need for one. In time, as A. J. P. Taylor 
remarks, "the demagogic organizations of imperialism took the govern- 
ment prisoner." The Navy League's slogan, "Our Future lies on the wa- 
ter," resulted in the top-heavy Navy bill of 1900 which set the nation's helm 
straight for war. Thanks to Tirpitz and his friends, the Kaiser, before he 
fully realized it, found himself saddled with a policy that could hardly fail 
to turn England the only uncommitted great power in Europe into a 
mortal enemy, thus completing Germany's encirclement. 
There is a disquieting parallel between Anglo-German relations in the 


years 1900-1914 and U.S.-Soviet relations after World War II. The Kaiser 
and most of his subjects did not want war with England, not even a cold 
war. Germany merely wanted equality with England. But, as the liberal 
German historian, Ludwig Dehio, points out, equality, particularly on the 
seas, implied "the expulsion of England from her position of supremacy." 
And the British considered supremacy on the water and control of the sea 
lanes as vital to the survival of their empire. "Seen in this light/' continues 
Dehio, "the incidents which led to World War I were merely the shell 
around a hard core of diametrically opposed vital interests, like the aureole 
of light around the moon on a damp night." 

Once the Big Navy program of 1900 had been adopted, the incidents 
became increasingly frequent and serious. They were aggravated by the 
German political and commercial penetration of the Ottoman Empire, by 
Germany's openly displayed sympathy for the Boers in the South African 
war, by Wilhelm's weakness for private theatrics in public places, by his 
lifelong detestation of Edward VII Uncle Bertie had once dubbed him 
"the most brilliant failure in history" and by his ambivalent feelings to- 
ward England generally. Though he frequently railed against British ar- 
rogance, the Kaiser was inordinately proud of his honorary rank as a 
British admiral, and on one occasion he startled the British Undersecretary 
for Foreign Affairs, Sir Charles Hardinge, by declaring in the course of an 
acrimonious discussion about relative sea power, "I am a British admiral, 
and I understand these questions better than a civilian like you." 

Wilhelm's attitudes toward England resembled those of certain anti- 
British Americans, and it was significant that he usually got along better 
with Americans, despite their deplorable breeziness and familiarity, and 
their misguided ideas about democracy, than he did with British aristo- 
crats. After the brush with President Theodore Roosevelt over some Ger- 
man muscle-flexing off the Venezuelan coast in 1903, the Kaiser devel- 
oped a warm admiration for the wielder of the Big Stick, about whom he 
later said, "Of all the men I've known he showed the strongest moral cour- 
age." Wilhelm even enjoyed showing visiting American millionaires around 
the royal palace and bragging about his ancestors, while they talked about 
their millions. The Kaiser was much impressed by great wealth, and as a 
young prince had dreamed of establishing some colossal charitable endow- 

"Sometimes," he wrote his friend, Poultney Bigelow, the son of an 
American diplomat with whom he had played Indians in childhood, "I 
wish one of your millionaires would have the splendid idea on his death- 
bed of willing his fortune to me." Neither Wilhelm's cordial feelings to- 
ward American dollars and their owners, nor respect for the U. S. Navy's 
big stick kept him from continuing to cast a sligjitly colonialist eye in die 
direction of the New World. (On the eve of World War I he toyed for a 


while with a weird scheme for appeasing European tensions by creating a 
United States of Europethough not organized on quite the same basis as 
Jean Monnefs later version allied with Great Britain against the United 
States of America.) 

Conclusion of the Franco-British entente, in April 1904, marked an 
ominous new stage in the crystallization of European antagonisms. So did 
the Moroccan crisis of 1905, brought to a head by the Kaiser's visit to 
Tangier, in which England supported her new ally against Germany; the 
abortive encounter between the Kaiser and the Czar at Bjorkoe; the Anglo- 
Russian entente signed in 1907, followed by the Reval talks in 1908; and 
the Bosnian crisis of 1908-1909, whose ending, though a seeming tri- 
umph for German diplomacy had made Germany appear as an overbearing 
bully in the eyes of Europe. Even before the Bosnian crisis had died down, 
a new one that was destined to have a particularly grave impact both on 
Anglo-German relations and on the future of the Hohenzollern dynasty 
broke out. 

On the morning of October 28, 1908, the German Ambassador in Lon- 
don, Count Paul von Wolff-Metternich, laid down his Daily Telegraph 
with shaking hands and said to one of his staff, "Now we might as well shut 
up shop." At the same moment, thousands of Telegraph readers were 
choking on their kippers, and many an indignant sputter disturbed the 
ritual silence of the British breakfast table. 

In a long interview accorded to a British visitor "for the purpose of giv- 
ing utmost publicity to the Anglophile views held by himself and his 
House," the Kaiser had appealed to the British people in such auspicious 
terms as these: "You English are like mad bulls; you see red everywhere! 
What on earth has come over you, that you should heap on us such sus- 
picion? What can I do more? I have always stood forth as the friend of 
England . . ." 

Recalling the Boer conflict, during which he admitted that German opin- 
on was hostile to England, the Kaiser had conjured up a pathetic picture 
>f his grandmother, Queen Victoria, confiding in him her anxiety about 
he unsatisfactory progress of the war. Wilhelm, like an affectionate grand- 
on, had drawn up a plan of campaign for crushing the Boers and had 
ubmitted it to his own general staff before sending it to Windsor Castle. 

"And let me remark on an extraordinary coincidence/' the Kaiser had 
aid to his interviewer. "My plan almost exactly corresponded with that 
rtiich Lord Roberts ultimately adopted . . , And now I ask you, was this 
ot the behavior of a man who wishes England well? Let England give a 
air answer." 

Even worse than the explosion of fury touched off in England by the 
nfortunate interview was the wave of criticism in the German press over 
le Kaiser's bumbling attempt at personal diplomacy. For the first time, 


the most submissive public opinion in Europe revolted. One irreverent 
German cartoonist even went so far as to portray the Old Emperor, Wil- 
helm I, trying to intercede with the Almighty on behalf of his grandson on 
the grounds that it was due to the Divine Grace, after all, that he sat on 
the throne (an allusion to one of the Kaiser's famous speeches) . "Now you 
want to put the blame on me/' God replies. 

Actually, there was no one on whom the blame could fairly be put be- 
cause in Wilhelmine Germany no one was really responsible for anything 
that happened; the dichotomy between parliamentary democracy and 
absolutism the Kaiser, if we can believe the French historian Maurice 
Muret, sometimes boasted that he had never read the German constitution 
had completely falsified the decision-making process at the highest levels; 
the Prussian efficiency of the German administrative machine merely 
served to bureaucratize irresponsibility. The Daily Telegraph incident was 
a neat illustration. Wflhelm had concocted the "interview" himself, with 
the help of a British Army officer who had once entertained him in Scot- 
land, but had sent the text to Billow for comment before publication. 
Biilow, who was on vacation at the time, had not bothered to read it care- 
fullyor perhaps had been quite satisfied to see the Kaiser inadvertently 
sabotaging his own hopes of a reconciliation with Englandand had for- 
warded it to the Wilhelmstrasse with a noncommittal note. At the Foreign 
Office it had been passed from desk to desk like a hot biscuit plate; loyal 
Prussian bureaucrats could hardly be expected to censor the All-Highest's 
imperial prose. In the end the draft had returned to the Kaiser without 
objections, and he had dispatched it to England, naively convinced that he 
was ushering in a new era of good will in Anglo-German relations, and 
thereby promoting the cause of peace. 

When Wilhelm discovered his mistake, he hastily departed on a hunting 
trip, leaving Biilow to face the storm. The Chancellor, however, proved to 
be lacking in the Niebelungen spirit. When the outcry, both in the Reichstag 
and in the Bundesrath where there was even talk among the princely 
houses of forcing the Kaiser to abdicate reached a dangerous pitch, he 
implicitly laid the blame at his master's door by declaring that the Em- 
peror would henceforth "observe more closely even in his private con- 
versations, that reticence which is indispensable to consistent policy and to 
the authority of the throne." 

Wilhelm never forgave Biilow for what he considered his disloyalty he 
got rid of the Chancellor in 1909 and the whole incident left a deep scar 
on his neurotic soul. The strains of the political crisis were aggravated by 
Wilhelm's distress over the recent Eulenburg scandal and by a tragic inci- 
dent of his hunting trip: the head of the Emperor's military staff, Count 
Hulsen-Haeseler, a fifty-six-year-old wag greatly loved for his high spirits, 


had dropped dead a few moments after he had enlivened a hunt supper by 
cavorting around the table dressed in a ballerina's tutu. 

On returning to Potsdam in mid-November 1908, the Kaiser took to his 
bed with what he called a nervous prostration and informed his family 
that he was going to abdicate in favor of his son, Crown Prince Friedrich 
Wilhelm. Eventually the Kaiserin and the Crown Prince himself talked 
Wilhelm out of his proposed dynastic hara-kiri, but he never completely 
recovered from the stormy trials of 1908; his self-confidence was irremedi- 
ably shaken. 

"Here started the process of the Kaiser's psychological abdication, al- 
though it was frequently interrupted by violent, irrational, temperamental 
outbursts, and by exaggerated aggressiveness to still the gnawing doubts," 
writes Admiral Muller, who was in almost daily contact with his master. 
The Crown Prince in his memoirs likewise refers to his father's growing 
irresolution and unwillingness to take decisions. 

After Biilow's departure, the zigazg course of German foreign policy, 
the reflection of its contradictory impulses, was more erratic than ever, 
the absence of a firm guiding hand more noticeable. The new Chancellor, 
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, a plodding bureaucrat, lacked the per- 
sonality to counterbalance the influence of the new State-Secretary (for- 
eign minister), the brutal, heavy-handed Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter. 
The ultramilitarists, headed by the infernal Tirpitz, grew stronger than ever. 
Their influence on the Kaiser was reinforced by the support of the Crown 
Prince until the Emperor grew jealous of his oldest son and sent him into 
virtual banishment after 1912. The heir to the Imperial throne, nicknamed 
the windhund greyhound because of his lean, aristocratic good looks, was 
a steadier and more responsible person than his father, but his political 
outlook was close to that of the most irresponsible Pan-Germanists and 
Big Navy fanatics. He had published writings stressing the moral whole- 
someness of war and had denounced the ideal of universal peace as an 
"un-German monstrosity." 

The Kaiser himself fell more and more under the spell of the militarist 
and Pan-Germanist clique (due in part to his friendship with the English 
racist, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose ideas later inspired Hitler), 
and German foreign policy became increasingly aggressive at every level 
and in every field: commercial competition, colonial rivalry Germany, a 
latecomer in the European race for colonies, was dissatisfied with her mod- 
est territorial prizes in Africa, China, and the Pacific the struggle for 
spheres of influence, and above all, the armaments race. 

The last few years of peace in Europe progressively degenerated into a 
kind of cold war they called it the "dry war" in those days between the 
two rival power blocs: the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy) and 
the Triple Entente (England, France, Russia). International crisis followed 


crisis, each one bringing Europe closer to the brink of a shooting war. The 
Agadir incident of 1911, when Germany for the second time challenged 
French colonial ambitions in Morocco, the election as President of the 
French Republic in 1912 of the Irredentist leader, Raymond Poincar6, 
the stepping-up of the German naval program, the lengthening of com- 
pulsory military service in France to three years, the reckless Austrian and 
Russian intrigues superimposed upon the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 
1913 these were some of the fatal milestones along the road to Armaged- 
don. The changes in the climate of European opinion that accompanied 
the deterioration of the diplomatic situation were no less ominous. In the 
early years of the new century Europeans had pinned their faith as we do 
now on the deterrent power of huge armaments programs. Gradually this 
faith gave way to the fear and finally to the conviction that the arms race 
in Europe made an eventual military clash between the two blocs inevita- 
ble. Instead of devoting all their energy and imagination to trying to avert 
war, the rulers and captains of Europe by 1914 seemed to be mainly con- 
cerned with trying to make sure that when war did come it would be at the 
right moment and over the right issue from the viewpoint of their respective 
strategic imperatives. 

The ruling clique in Germany was perhaps more outspoken in express- 
ing its cynicism than the other European elites, but it is not sure that it was 
basically more cynical. "Barbarism lit by neon" was the merciless verdict 
on Wilhelmine Germany a generation before Hitler's Reich handed down 
by the Viennese satirist, Karl Kraus, and it was a marvelously apt one. But 
if the neon was brighter in Germany than anywhere else in Europe, and the 
barbarians perhaps a bit noisier, regression to barbarism was a general 
European trend. We shall see this perhaps more clearly if we pause for a 
brief last look at the more shadowy corners of Europe, beyond the neon's 
reach, where the fuse for the final explosion was already being laid. 


The Gravediggers of Autocracy 

A3 might be expected, the pattern of outward growth and 
inner rot that characterized European civilization in the 
last years before the Great War manifested itself most paradoxically in 
Russia, the most backward of all the European powers. The period from 
1907 to 1914 was one of the most prosperous in Russian history. In certain 
respects it was also one of the most brilliant. Science and technology made 
rapid, if uneven, progress. Industry surged ahead, laying the foundations 
for spectacular economic expansion; agricultural output climbed at a pro- 
digious rate. The army was modernized, education reformed, the adminis- 
tration rationalized. After the stern repression of the 1905 uprisings the 
Czarist despotism itself became somewhat less harsh; the parliament estab- 
lished by the new constitution had little real authority, but its very existence 
modified the climate of Russian public life and gave the country at least a 
superficial resemblance to a twentieth-century commonwealth. The impres- 
sion that Russia was catching up with the century culturally and politically 
as well as materially was not wholly illusory; it was merely misleading. The 
progressive influences that were at work in Russian society were real 
enough, but they were not the decisive ones. 

Two men exemplified the rival tendencies that were competing for the 
soul of Czarist Russia. Each in his own way was a catalyst, as well as a 
symbol of essential historic processes. 

Peter Stolypin, who was the Prime Minister from November 1906 to his 
assassination in September 1911, was the chief artisan of the monarchy's 
recovery after the crisis of 1905. A big, burly, black-bearded man with 
frank and virile features, Stolypin was not exactly an enlightened conserva- 


tive, but he was an honest and thoughtful one. His goal was not so much to 
reform the autocracy as to renovate it. As a provincial governor during the 
1905 revolution he had put down insurrection in his area with a ruthless 
hand, and he had been Minister of the Interior during the period of repres- 
sion. Yet he welcomed the constitution of October 1905 perhaps because 
it offered increased scope for the talents of loyal, but independent-minded 
servants of the Czar like himselfand during his five years' premiership 
would not allow it to be sabotaged or evaded. Not a parliamentarian by 
temperament or conviction, he was nonetheless both liked and respected in 
the Duma even by its liberal members because of his good faith and of 
his basic decency in human relations. Stolypin was only moderately intelli- 
gent, and the best that can be said for his political outlook is that it was 
based on contemporary rather than on anachronistic concepts of capital- 
ism, but he had something that Russia in those days needed far more than 
deep or original ideas: character. It was Stolypin who, in the teeth of 
criticism both from the left and from the reactionaries, gave Russian peas- 
ants the right to withdraw from the village communes and to own their 
own land the most fundamental social reform since the emancipation of 
the serfs. By 1914 nearly 9,000,000 peasant families were tilling their own 
fields in Russia, and the embers of revolution were fast dying out in the 

If anyone could have saved the Russian monarchy after 1905 it was 
Stolypin. His antithesis in Russian history and in a sense his victorious 
rival was not Lenin, or any of the revolutionary leaders, but Rasputin, 
whose emergence as a public figure almost coincided in time with Stolypin's, 
though his final triumph came long after the latter's death. Just as Stoly- 
pin was simultaneously a symbol of residual vitality in the wasting autoc- 
racy and the main instrument of its potential recovery, Rasputin was both 
an ominous symptom of its decay and the ultimate agent of its collapse. 
One was the scientific healer, the other the irresponsible quack. Stolypin 
stood for the kind of rational political conservatism that seeks to pre- 
serve traditional values by modifying existing institutions to meet changed 
conditions. Rasputin expressed the inverted radicalism that in its panic 
flight from contemporary reality tramples down tradition and replaces it 
with synthetic legend. It is hard to believe that such an implausibly lurid 
figure as Rasputin could have played a significant role in the history of 
even a backward country like Czarist Russia but he did. 

To the politically sophisticated eye of the 1960s there is something 
vaguely unsatisfactory about the surviving photographs of Gregory Efimo- 
vich Rasputin. They usually depict a sturdy man of medium height wearing 
a peasant blouse or caftan, baggy trousers and heavy boots. He has a 
coarse, fleshy nose, long, brown, not-very-well-combed hair, parted in the 


middle, and a wiry, unkempt beard, so dark as to be almost black. He is 
staring hypnotically into the camera, with enormous, deep-set Ancient 
Mariner eyes. (Contemporary memoirs describe them as being of a pierc- 
ing steely blue, with pupils that contracted to pinpoints when their owner 
was concentrating.) The general impression is of a genuine rascal who is 
inexplicably going out of his way to look like one. 

The same odd effect is produced by the portrayal of Rasputin's character 
in most accounts of the Romanov dynasty's twilight period. His contribu- 
tion to the ultimate collapse of the Czarist regime is variously evaluated by 
different authorities the majority view is that it was substantialbut there 
is agreement so complete as to be almost suspect on his vices and short- 
comings. Rasputin, it appears, was a charlatan, a grafter, a simonist, a 
drunkard, a blasphemer, and a debauchee. He was as lecherous as a ba- 
boon and he stank like a rancid billy goat. He once pulled out a tuft of his 
father's beard in a public brawl, and he had a scar on his own scalp that 
Trotsky uncharitably links with suspected horse stealing. He was probably 
a secret sympathizer with one of the more disreputable heresies of East- 
ern Christendom, and it is not unlikely that he was even scheming to usurp 
the Imperial throne. He washed as seldom as possibleat least in the early 
stages of his public career and he dipped his hands in the soup preferably 
fish soup. 

While both the adversaries of the Russian monarchy and its apologists 
had reasons of their own for painting Rasputin darker than life and some- 
times larger than life the evidence that he actually was an unprepossessing 
scoundrel is almost overwhelming. The trouble with the conventional pic- 
ture of Rasputin is not so much that it makes the subject look too much of 
a villain though perhaps in some ways it does but that it leaves a mislead- 
ing impression about the nature of his villainy. Rasputin's boorishness, 
like his debauchery, unquestionably came naturally to him, but like the 
peasant smock and the matted hair, they were also props that he used de- 
liberately to build up his public image. 

At the outset Rasputin was a kind of Russian equivalent to a backwoods 
revivalist, but one who specialized less in evangelism than in soothsaying 
and healing. (His gifts as a healer, though doubtless mainly dependent on 
mental suggestion, were not completely bogus.) The calling was an ancient 
one, overlaid with a rich patina of tradition. An almost indispensable 
requirement for practicing it was an adequate term of preparation as a 
strannik, a variety of pious hobo. The wanderer, after acquiring sufficient 
sanctitity in his travels, might eventually gain recognition as a starets: a 
holy man and lay religious teacher of the type made fashionable in modern 
times by Dostoyevsky. 

The atmosphere of neomedieval religiosity with faint undertones of 
Satanism-4hat naturally surrounded what might be termed Rasputin's 


paratheological career has tended to obscure his other one. For Rasputin 
was not just a lay preacher who dabbled in politics: he was a politician. 
Like his spiritual vocation, his political one was unorthodox and unofficial, 
but despite the exotic trimmings it conformed to a pattern that we have no 
difficulty in recognizing. Essentially, Rasputin was a political boss at least 
he became one and his business was power; its acquisition and manipula- 
tion. Mysticism was part of his stock in trade, but the mystique that he ex- 
ploited the most significantly was a political and comparatively modern 
one. He was the embodiment of the unspoiled muzhik glorified by Tolstoy 
and the early Populists the Russian offshoot of Rousseau's noble savage, 
and the ideological cousin of all those unwashed masses in whose name 
homespun demagogues from every land have labored to build up the wide- 
spread twentieth-century confusion between folksiness and democracy. In 
a sense, Rasputin personified, among other things, the Czarist version of the 
Common Man, and he had to look and act the part; he dipped his fingers in 
the soup and scratched his behind in public for the same reason that Nikita 
Khrushchev takes off his shoes. 

It may be useful at this point to summarize briefly the main stages in 
Rasputin's career from peasant lout to self-anointed holy man, and from 
professional mystic to political boss. The future starets was born in 1 872 
in the Siberian village of Pokrovskoe, near Tobolsk, just beyond the Urals. 
His father, Efim, was a farmer and a horse dealer. The family, like many 
peasant families in Russia, had no surname; eventually Gregory adopted 
the legal name Novyk. "Rasputin" was a nickname given him as a young 
man by his neighbors. It means "the dissolute," and there is every reason 
to suppose that it was well earned. From earliest adolescence Rasputin 
manifested exceptionally strong sexual urges and powers. ("Gregory can 
take care of them all," his wife, a sturdy Siberian peasant, commented 
when she heard about the swarms of society women who were pursuing him 
in St. Petersburg.) At the same time he was deeply and apparently sin- 
cerely-religious, with a bent for the contemplative life. The traditional 
solution to his problem in Russia was to flee the temptations of the flesh by 
entering a monastery. In young Rasputin's case, however, there was a major 
contraindication. "Rasputin," once testified a Czarist police official who 
knew him well, "was aware of certain unhealthy and perverse tendencies 
which had manifested themselves in him from earliest youth. He realized 
that he was not made for the closely confined life of a monastery and that 
if he entered one he would soon be banished from it." 

Instead of a monk, Rasputin became a strannik. He twice made the tra- 
ditional pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and he wandered all over Russia, 
praying at its most noted shrines. No doubt he often drifted into less sancti- 
fied establishments as well, but in yielding to the more banal temptations 
of the flesh he could reassure himself with the thought that he was saving 


his soul from even graver jeopardy. His soul proved to be so often in need 
of rescue that for his own spiritual comfort and for the eventual salvation 
of others he was led to work out his famous dogma of redemption through 
repentance. Stated in its crudest terms which Rasputin was usually careful 
to avoid doing the doctrine postulated that to be saved it was first neces- 
sary to sin; at least it was essential to be humble in heart, and nothing was 
more truly humble than a repentant sinner. Therefore, brothers and sis- 
ters-let us humble ourselves by sinning. The influence of the Klysti, an 
illegal and heretical sect of erotic flagellants that flourished underground 
in Rasputin's part of Siberia, seems apparent in bis teaching, but he man- 
aged to camouflage it sufficiently to avoid prosecution or anathema; he 
preached mainly by example. His basic message could hardly fail to have 
a wide appeal especially in Czarist Russia. Its popularity was an impor- 
tant factor in his rise to power. 

In 1903 Rasputin, then thirty-one, arrived in St, Petersburg and set him- 
self up as a reformed drunkard and rake. He had already acquired a wife 
and three children, but he had left them behind in Siberia and he was gaunt 
and ascetic-looking from his wanderings. His phenomenal filth, his ver- 
minous rags and his burning eyes attested the sincerity of his repentance. 
He was accepted as a kind of hanger-on in a fashionable theological acad- 
emy, and soon found himself some influential sponsors. They included 
Hermogen, the Bishop of Saratov, and a monk named Illiodor, who was 
regarded as a pious mystic in certain drawing rooms of the capital. Thanks 
to such connections, Rasputin eventually came to the attention of the 
Grand Duchess Militsa, a noted collector of seers, mediums, and similar 
para-ecclesiastical bric-a-brac. His reputation as a healer was firmly estab- 
lished when he successfully treated a hunting dog belonging to the Grand 
Duke Nicholas after the animal had been given up for lost by the veteri- 
nary science of the day. He had equally good luck with the two-footed 
patients especially the female ones who submitted themselves to his 
ministrations, and he was also credited with some accurate forecasts of 
future events; among them was the prediction that the Czarina, who up to 
then had borne only girls, would give birth to an heir in 1904 (she did). 

Introducing Rasputin to the Czar and the Czarina was probably the idea 
of the Grand Duchess Militsa, though it seems to have been her brother- 
in-law the Grand Duke Nicholas who made the actual arrangements. It 
was the first of numerous attempts by various schemers to build up Ras- 
putin's influence in order to extend their own. The Imperial couple's in- 
grown family life constituted a kind of magic palisade that sheltered them 
from the normal intrigues of an autocratic Court, but their tragic obsession 
with the little Czarevitch's health along with their ignorance and supersti- 
tionrendered them abnormally vulnerable to quackery, especially to 
quackery in pious dress. 


Rasputin made the most of his opportunities. His first visit to the Im- 
perial Palace at Tsarskoe Selo took place in November 1905. He was in- 
vited to return after a trip back to his Siberian village, and soon he was 
virtually commuting between Siberia and the capital. The Czarina was 
convinced that he had the power to stop her son's bleeding attacks, and thus 
to preserve his life whenever it was threatened. Any trace of doubt that 
may have lingered in her mind vanished in 1912 when the Czarevitch, 
who was near death from uncontrollable internal hemorrhages, rallied after 
the starets sent a telegram promising that the boy would get well. On other 
occasions he relieved painful or alarming symptoms merely by talking to 
the Czarevitch on the telephone. Many of these symptoms were no doubt 
aggravated by emotional stress perhaps the child's unconscious response to 
his parents' anxiety and Rasputin, like other noted charlatans, had ex- 
traordinary tranquilizing powers. He supplemented them on occasion with 
secret Tibetan remedies borrowed from a fellow quack, and for a time he 
took lessons from a professional hypnotist. The Czarina, of course, was 
unaware of these earthly expedients: to her mind Rasputin's success in 
treating the Czarevitch was miraculous; only saints could perform miracles; 
obviously, therefore, the starets was a saint. The Czar was inclined to agree 
with her. 

Rasputin, however, was more than a saint: as we have noted, he was 
also a symbol. 

"... In the eyes of the sovereigns," observes the conservative jurist and 
historian Basil Maklakov, "Rasputin was the authentic representative of the 
'real* people, as distinguished from High Society the 'bridge-players,' as 
the Czarina termed them. In the second place, he was the prophet, the holy 
man whom God had sent to them for their welfare. By following his advice 
the Czar would thus have on his side both God and the People. What could 
counterbalance such an influence?'* 

The idea that Rasputin typified the real people, or as we would say, the 
common man, in Russia, was no doubt literary and oversimplified, but it 
was not completely delusive. The starets did not typify the urban factory 
worker an increasingly important element in Russian society owing to the 
country's rapid industrialization but he was an authentic muzhik, even if 
at times he overdid the effort to look and smell the part, and this had enor- 
mous political significance. Numerically, the peasants were still the most 
important class in Russia they remained so right up to the revolution 
and from the viewpoint of the Czarist state they were the most radically 
alienated. The muzhiks* attitude toward the Russian elites was almost that 
of a colonial people toward the master race: in their eyes the nobles, as 
Rasputin put it, were not real Russians. They regarded with bottomless 
distrust not merely the monarchy's tax collectors and its gendarmes, but the 


liberal or revolutionary intelligentzia of the cities, and the often high- 
minded country squires. 

Rasputin correctly diagnosed this fundamental cleavage in Russian so- 
cietyin one sense, his own public career was a symptom of it and he 
repeatedly called it to the Czar's attention. The dynasty, he advised, should 
identify itself less with the noble, more with the muzhik. Reversing the 
slogan of the early Narodniks, it should seek to bring the people to the 
throne. Most of Rasputin's advice lay essentially in the field of public rela- 
tions, but it was no less shrewd for that if TV had existed in 1912 and a 
captive audience in the most remote villages had been able actually to see 
the starets bestowing his verminous blessings upon Mama and Papa, as he 
called the Czar and the Czarina, the destiny of the Romanovs might have 
been different. (Sometimes Rasputin's recommendations were more sub- 
stantive: As we shall see later, he tried to warn the Czar against going to 
war in July 1914, and he boasted that he had saved peace in 1909 and in 
1912. This was an exaggeration, but it seems established that over a period 
of several years Rasputin consistently advocated a cautious and pacific 
foreign policy the best counsel Nicholas received from any quarter on the 
most important issue of the time. Rasputin also appears to have taken a 
curiously enlightened stand in condemning anti-Semitism, one of the major 
political and moral evils of Czarist Russia.) 

Rasputin unquestionably had great natural gifts, perhaps even moral 
ones, greatly debased. And no doubt he honestly believed that he was serv- 
ing the best interests of the dynasty. It was the occasional flashes of real 
wisdom and sincerity that made his charlatanism so destructive. There was 
some kind of afiinity between the Dostoyevskian chaos of his personality 
and the regimented anarchy of the Czarist state that made him a prodigious 
catalyst of corruption. The Czar and the Czarina were the foremost, though 
by no means the most innocent, victims of this mortal chemistry. Nicholas, 
like many weak men, had a guilty, only half-acknowledged lust for power; 
he wanted to be told that it was both a pious duty and a politic course to 
satisfy it. His need for reassurance was all the greater after the revolution 
of 1905, when he had accepted to become, in name at least, a constitu- 
tional monarch and to yield some fragment of his authority to an elected 
parliament, however feeble. 

Rasputin, whose own lust for power was the most unbridled of his pas- 
sions, told the Czar exactly what he wanted to hear. Speaking as a man of 
God, he declared that the autocracy just as Pobedonostev had taught 
was a Divinely ordained institution for whose maintenance Nicholas would 
be held accountable before the Supreme Judge. Speaking as a man of the 
people, he affirmed that the muzhiks revered their autocrat and were un- 
conditionally devoted to the autocracy, while they had nothing but loathing 
or contempt for the revolutionaries and reformers of every stripe. Conse- 


quently it was expedient as well as lawful for the Czar to disregard the 
constitution and put the clock back to the untrammeled absolutism of his 
father's day. This doctrine of despotic populism, or progress through reac- 
tionthe political analogue of Rasputin's private dogma of salvation 
through sin had a tonic effect on Nicholas' morale, but it was the most 
dangerous intellectual drug that could have been prescribed for him. He 
was not the kind of ruler who misuses power; he simply did not know how to 
use it at all, and the more he tried to grasp in his own hands, the more 
slipped through his fingers. 

Rasputin's influence upon Alexandra, the Czarina, was not merely un- 
fortunate; it was definitely pathological both in political and in psychiatric 

"I kiss your hands and I lean my head on your beloved shoulders," she 
wrote to the starets in 1909. "Oh, how light, how light I do feel then. I 
only wish one thing: to fall asleep, to fall asleep forever, on your shoulders 
and in your arms. . , ." 

This is somewhat empurpled prose, even for an inveterate reader of 
Marie Corelli, and it is not surprising that aristocratic eyebrows were raised 
in St. Petersburg when the Czarina's letters were filched from Rasputin and, 
through an oversight on the part of the Czar's censors, found their way into 
print. Most sober historians, however, believe that the relationship between 
Queen Victoria's granddaughter and the son of the Siberian horse dealer 
was clinical, rather than carnal, and there are abundant precedents for it 
in the annals of psychiatry. No doubt Alexandra herself was blissfully un- 
aware of the strong erotic element in her feelings toward Rasputin; it was 
precisely because she was a granddaughter of Victoria that she could, in all 
innocence, write such letters to him. 

To understand fully Rasputin's role in Alexandra's life, however, it is 
necessary to take into account both the complexity of one of her character 
and the peculiarities of her unique social position. Underneath her Victo- 
rian dedication to family and duty, she was morbidly ambitious; like many 
other ambitious women, especially in that day, she had to satisfy her power- 
addict's cravings vicariously, through her husband and children. She was 
the kind of woman who completely dominates her husband at home while 
incessantly prodding him to "assert himself" outside of it. Where a sub- 
urban housewife might insist that her husband walk straight into the boss's 
office and demand a raise, Alexandra kept nagging at hers to act the part of 
the absolute autocrat that he was supposed to be. So long as she confined 
herself to general principles there was no problem, and as the mother of a 
future autocrat she could properly stress the need for handing down intact 
to "Baby" the Czarevitch, Alexis-the heritage of absolutism that Nicholas 
himself had received from his ancestors. But Alexandra could not indulge 


in the detailed, day-to-day meddling in her husband's affairs that is food 
and drink, and the breath of life itself to a domineering woman without 
violating the very creed she invoked to justify her interference. By defini- 
tion, there can be only one autocrat in an autocracy, and it is lese-majestg 
even to offer him unsolicited advice. This is where Rasputin came in; in his 
dual capacity as the emissary of God and as the Voice of the People he 
could without disrespect volunteer suggestions to the Czar. And Alexandra, 
without seeming to intrude on her husband's prerogatives, could effectively 
influence his actions as a ruler by instigating, communicating, and on occa- 
sion interpreting the starets* policy recommendations. 

". . . listen to me, which means Our Friend [Rasputin]," Alexandra 
puts it in one of her letters to the Czar. ". . . only believe more in Our 
Friend," she urges in another. "Be the boss," she writes in still another. 
"Obey your firm little wife and Our Friend." Finally there is this revelatory 
gem of conjugal prose: "Ah! my Boy, my Boy, how I wish we were 
together . . . think more of Gr. [Rasputin] . . . Oh! Let me guide you 

The letters from which these quotations are taken were written during the 
war when the weird triangular relationship had assumed its final form. 
At the beginning both the starets and the Czarina were less blatant in their 
efforts to influence the dreamy and wavering Nicholas, but the pattern was 
established almost from the first. Rasputin knew what was expected of 
him; he gave the Czarina the pretexts she needed for meddling in state 
affairs at the same time that he exploited his influence over her to further 
his own ends. The emotional bond between Alexandra and Rasputin was 
far more complex than it appeared. In certain respects he exercised an al- 
most hypnotic control over her, but at the same time he served as the in- 
dispensable instrument of her own will to dominate; naturally she loved 
him for that, as well as for other reasons, just as in a different way she 
sincerely loved the emotionally immature husband whose weakness enabled 
her to rule an empire. In matters of the heart Alexandra looked up to Ras- 
putin with a child's awe and devotion, just as Nicholas looked up to her, but 
politically speaking they were partners in the power game, and the Czar 
himself was almost as much their accomplice as their victim. None of the 
three was wholely innocent or totally cynical. 

A lesser, but nonetheless indispensable, cog in the power machine that 
Alexandra and Rasputin gradually built up was a prot6g6 of the Czarina's 
named Anna Vyrubova, a dowdy, whey-faced lump of a woman with 
heavy dull braids of blond hair coiled around her head, and eyes like 
badly rinsed glassware. Anna was the daughter of a senior court official 
and had been briefly, unhappily married before she settled down to a poor 
relation's existence at Tsarsfcoe Selo, living in a little house assigned to her 
near the palace grounds. She is another almost archetypal figure: the 


household parasite burrowed into the intimate core of a conjugal relation- 
ship and slowly rotting it with a flaccid, excremental taint. She was Alex- 
andra's closest companion outside the family circle and this unappetizing 
feminine friendship was in its way as great a triumph of self -ignorance over 
instinct as the Czarina's infatuation for Rasputin. Anna was herself infatu- 
ated with the starets, even more submissively than Alexandra was though 
equally shielded from the more goatish implications of her passion and be- 
sides helping Alexandra celebrate the cult of Our Friend, she joined with 
reptilian avidity in the common task of shearing Nicholas of the few poor 
shreds of his manhood. (This, of course, did not prevent her from "adoring" 
the Czar to the point of causing Alexandra an occasional jealous twinge.) 

On the practical level Anna's chief function was to act as a liaison 
agent between the Czarina and Rasputin; the starets could not appear at 
the palace every day, but Anna could and did; thanks to her a continuous 
two-way communication was established. When a face-to-face conference 
was necessary out of normal visiting hours Alexandra could meet Ras- 
putin at Anna's house. She was useful in other ways. There were a certain 
number of down-to-earth requests or suggestions particularly those relating 
to the starets* personal finances that Rasputin could not make without 
stepping out of his other-worldly role. Anna made them for him. There is 
reason to believe that she likewise prompted Rasputin at times to tell the 
Czarina what for purposes of husband management the latter wanted to 
hear him say. Anna Vyrubova was generally regarded by those who knew 
her as an abnormally stupid woman, but she must have had a good deal 
of sly cunning, and it included a knack for appearing even more moronic 
than she was which at moments may have taken in the starets himself. 
While loyally serving her two friends, Anna by no means neglected her own 
interests; even protegfis of Rasputin had to pay their personal court to her 
if they wanted to be called to the favorable attention of the Czarina, and, 
through her, to that of the Czar. 

Not content with influencing state policy at the highest level, Rasputin 
and the Czarina eventually created a huge political organization, to imple- 
ment their will. Like all such machines from the precinct or courthouse 
level up, this unofficial "Empress's Party" operated on a basis of patronage 
and favors. Rasputin obtained jobs and honors for his henchmen, govern- 
ment contracts or inside information for his financial backers. His clique 
ultimately included ministers in fact two prime ministers bishops, high 
officials, and generals. It also included a couple of shady bankers, a provin- 
cial Jewish jeweler who thanks to the starets became a confidential money- 
lender to the St. Petersburg aristocracy and the proprietor of a prosperous 
gambling club, a titled, homosexual influence-peddler, and a former 
Okhrana operative turned professional blackmailer. General Vladimir Su- 
fchomlinov, the corrupt, uxorious War Minister, and his pretty, somewhat 


scandalous young wife were among the charter members of the camarilla. 
Count Sergius Witte, the Prime Minister at the time of the 1905 uprising 
was one of the shrewd political minds behind it. A senior police official 
named Stephen Beletsky, who for a while was one of the key figures in the 
band, put Rasputin on the secret payroll of the Okhrana for a salary of 
3000 rubles a month about $800 and with the Czarina's authorization 
assigned an Okhrana general to supervise the starets* personal bodyguard. 

Rasputin took his duties as a political boss seriously. When a major ap- 
pointment or a fat contract for one of the machine's supporters was at stake 
he would concentrate on the tactical problem with the aid of several bottles 
of Madeira his favorite drink take a steam bath and then write himself a 
memo and put it under his pillow (before he learned to write he had used 
a notched stick as an aide-memoire). In the morning he would pick up the 
memo, declare, "My will has prevailed,*' and telephone Anna Vyrubova 
to inform the Czarina, who would then give the necessary instructions to 
the Czar. 

For relaxation from the cares of office the starets caroused with his 
friends and henchmen at gypsy cabarets, and climbed, tumbled or fell into 
bed with an heroic number and an amazing range of feminine companions. 
Contrary to legend, few of them were authentic aristocrats, but the list of 
Rasputin's conquests, if the word can be used, included jeweled and sabled 
beauties from the fringes of high society, de luxe adventuresses and the 
wives of respectable businessmen or officials trying in their fashion to pro- 
mote the interests of their spouses. Once on his birthday Rasputin organized 
an all-night orgy at his flat on Gorokhavaia Street in St. Petersburg that 
came to a near-dramatic end the next morning when the husbands of the 
two most indefatigable bacchantes burst into the apartment with drawn 
swords (the Okhrana agents detailed to guard the starets held them off 
long enough for him to escape with his guests down a back stairway) . 

On another occasion Rasputin created something of a stir in a public 
bath in Siberia when he brought with him a bevy of female acolytes from 
St. Petersburg whom he ordered to scrub him down a salutary spiritual 
discipline for them, as he explained later to an inquisitive journalist. While 
Rasputin preferred what he called society women because, as he said, they 
smelted better, he did not believe in losing the common touch. Police re- 
ports note an unending disheveled stream of Celling, cursing and spitting" 
prostitutes, peasant wenches, servant girls, and other women of the people 
emerging from the little bedroom next to the dining room in Rasputin's flat. 

Neither the Czarina nor even the prudish Anna Vyrubova though the 
latter often witnessed the beginning of some queer evening entertainments 
at Rasputin's could be brought to believe, or at least to admit, that the 
starets ever behaved like anything but a saint "Read the Apostles; they 
kissed everybody as a form of greeting," declared Alexandra in refuting the 


scandalous tales about her favorite. When the Czarevitch's nurse accused 
Rasputin of having seduced her the Czarina dismissed it as an hysterical 
delusion. Rasputin's early backers, the monk, ffliodor, and the pious if 
slightly gullible Hermogen were less obdurate in the face of the evidence. 
Following upon the lurid and documented revelations of a nun named 
Xenia, Hennogen called in Rasputin and extorted a confession from him. 
**You are smashing our sacred vessels," the sturdy bishop roared, whacking 
Rasputin over the head with his episcopal cross. As penance he made the 
starets swear on a particularly holy icon that he would never touch a 
woman again. The next day Rasputin, hysterically crying, "Save me, save 
me" (a night's reflection, presumably, had brought him to realize the im- 
plications of his vow), sought to enlist the help of Illiodor, but when the two 
of them returned to Hennogen's study, the bishop turned his back on the 
petitioner, saying, "Never, and nowhere." 

Neither Rasputin's sexual extravagances nor his political influence 
reached their apogee until after the start of the war. The fantastic and fatal 
epoch in Russian history that might be termed the reign of Rasputin will 
be chronicled in due course; it was only foreshadowed at the time of Sto- 
lypin's death. Rasputin's rise to power had been so gradual as to be scarcely 
perceptible, and though he was already a national scandal in 1911 he was 
hardly yet a national calamity. Had Stolypin lived, he might never have 
become one. The virile and healthy minded Prime Minister was untouched 
by the morbid fascination which the starets exercised upon many otherwise 
sensible Russians of both sexes. He had bluntly rejected a suggestion from 
the Czar that Rasputin be called in as a healer for Stolypin's daughter, who 
had been injured by the explosion of a bomb thrown at her father in 1906, 
and later on when Rasputin sought an interview and tried to hypnotize him, 
his mind was made up. Early in 1911, on the strength of police reports 
about Rasputin's malversations and misbehavior, Stolypin ordered him out 
of the capital. The Czar was unhappy and the Czarina raged, but the order 
stood and Rasputin went into exile. Stolypin's action, of course, turned 
Alexandra into one of his mortal enemies. 

By a queer coincidence, Rasputin, accompanied by Anna Vyrubova, 
turned up in Kiev when Stolypin and the Czar arrived for an official cere- 
mony in November 1911. As the Prime Minister drove the streets of the 
town behind the Imperial carriage, Rasputin, it is said, suddenly called 
out 'Death is after him! Death is driving behind him." 

The next night, Stolypin was shot down by a terrorist in the local opera 
house, under the eyes of the Czar and of his two eldest daughters. It was to 
prove one of the most fateful political crimes in modern historyin part 
because it removed the only serious stumbling block in Rasputin's path 
but it provides a somewhat double-edged argument to historians who be- 
lieved in the unqualified primacy of the individual leader as the ultimate 


molder of history. It is true that the history of Russia, and therefore of the 
world, might have been very different if Stolypin had lived longer. Statisti- 
cally, however, the odds were heavily against his survival. The dark forces 
that were sweeping Czarist Russia to its doom were too strong for one man 
to stem, and long before his assassination Stolypin had missed whatever 
chance he might have had to do so. His efforts to reform the monarchy had 
overlooked the area of most deadly abuse. Stolypin's failure is part of the 
story of the downfall of the Old World as a whole. The processes of social 
decay that at least indirectly were responsible for his death were simul- 
taneously eating away the underpinnings of civilization and with it the 
chances for continued peace throughout much of Europe. 


Murder, Muddle, and Machiavelli 

T^vOCUMENTARY evidence on certain aspects of the "dry 
JL/ war" uncomfortably reminiscent of our own "cold war" 
that preceded the outbreak of military hostilities in 1914 is tantalizingly 
fragmentary. Some of it is still buried in secret archives; much has doubtless 
been deliberately destroyed; a good deal in all probability was never written 
down. Scrap by scrap, however, information has been accumulating over 
the last quarter-century, and in the light of what our generation has wit- 
nessed, we can now both see more clearly than our fathers did, and evaluate 
more realistically, what might be termed the conspiratorial background of 
World War I. Some of the particular incidents that figure in it may at times 
have been oversensationalized, or exaggerated for propaganda purpose, 
but the rising curve of espionage and subversion, of secret violence and 
of public deception, in Europe between 1900 and 1914 is a phenomenon 
that deserves the most serious attention. As we know from examples closer 
to the present, when policemen imitate the methods of the underworld, 
while revolutionaries adopt the outlook of policemen, that is a symptom of 
a disordered or a decaying civilization. Before 1914, this symptom which 
was also a significant factor in the ultimate breakdown of the monarchic 
order in Europe manifested itself in a specially malignant form within 
Russia and Austria-Hungary, and above all, in the efforts of the two rival 
empires to exploit the revolutionary movements inside each other's borders. 
The secret-service duel between the Romanov and the Habsburg dynasties 
played a prominent part in creating the morbid climate of opinion in which 
the seeds of European war germinated; in the far-from-negiigible degree to 
which it involved both duelists in the endemic conspiracies of the Balkan 
states, it contributed directly to the casus betti. 


A spy scandal that came to light in Austria shortly before the war pro- 
vides us with an instructive case history, as a starting point. On May 29, 
1913, the Viennese press revealed that Colonel Alfred Redl, then serving 
as Chief of Staff of the 8th Army Corps in Prague, had committed suicide 
five days earlier. He had been caught, the authorities reluctantly admitted, 
selling secret military information to a foreign power which, of course, 
turned out to be Russia. In addition to its obvious gravity from the military 
viewpoint Redl had been in the Russian pay for at least seven years the 
case had exceptional journalistic appeal. The unfortunate victim, the enemy 
agents who corrupted him, and the counterintelligence officers who dis- 
covered his treason, had all behaved in accordance with the strictest tradi- 
tions of espionage fiction; the case was authenticated in the public mind 
by numberless examples from the real world of pulp and screen. Every 
detail was perfect: from the little slip that ultimately brings down even the 
Napoleons of crime in RedPs case a penknife which he had dropped in a 
hansom cab to the classic nocturnal visit from a stony-faced delegation of 
brother officers, the revolver wordlessly laid down, and the long vigil outside 
the traitor's bedroom, waiting for the penitential shot. (This ritual suicide 
for the sake of military honor led to a politically important break between 
the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hoetzendorf , who had 
authorized it, and his former patron, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand. The 
heir to the throne had his faults, but as a believing Catholic in an age of 
mingled fetishism and cynicism, he was profoundly shocked to see a Catho- 
lic monarchy making itself the accomplice to a self-murder, and as one of 
the few practical-minded men to hold high office in the Habsburg Empire, 
he was no less scandalized by the discovery that Redl had been allowed to 
blow his brains out before revealing everything that he knew about Russian 
espionage operations.) 

Underneath its pseudoromantic trimmings, the Redl case was not only 
inexpressibly sordid, but definitely ominous, both in its political and in its 
moral implications. Unless there are depths-within-depths to the affair that 
have not yet been discovered, one has no choice but to view Redl as a figure 
of such towering shoddiness as to be almost archetypal. He certainly was 
not a typical Austrian or Viennese of his generation, but at the root of his 
felony there seems to have lain a bottomless pit of the triviality which was 
perhaps the most characteristic failing of Habsburg society in its last days. 
One cannot even say that Redl was a kind of moral cretin; he merely seems 
to have been an extreme case of moral schlampereL As far as we know, he 
had no subversive, or other convictions; no overpowering passion or in- 
exorable necessity led him to betray, not only his country an ideal that 
was hazy to many of Francis Joseph's subjects but his uniform and his 
personal oath to the Emperor. He was a practicing homosexual, and 
the Russian agent who had recruited, or debauched him, was a Mos- 


covite nobleman with numerous contacts in the fashionable male demi- 
monde of the day, but the bond of perversion between them seems to have 
been no more significant than a common interest in tennis or stamp collect- 
ing might have been; it merely brought them together. There may have been 
some hint of blackmail, but it is not likely that before the first act of treason 
it was a compelling factor; the Austro-Hungarian army was fairly broad- 
minded about its officers' private failings, as long as they were somehow 
connected with sex. RedTs vice, however, cost him a good deal of money. 
He had a kind of male concubine, a handsome but flighty and spendthrift 
lieutenant, whom he passed off as his nephew and on whose behalf he was 
constantly running into debt; Redl, himself, liked to drive a flashy auto- 
mobile and generally to cut more of a figure than he could afford to do. 1 
The wages of treason were comfortable, but on a petty-bourgeois scale in 
keeping with the whole climate of the affair. Redl got a regular salary from 
the Russians, but it does not seem to have amounted to more than a few 
hundred dollars a month no doubt there were occasional bonuses and it 
was handled with the contemptuous sloppiness of a dishonest public-works 
contractor bribing a municipal inspector. Redl's clandestine pay was sent 
him in a bulky envelope mailed at fixed dates to a postal-box address in 
Vienna from the same village near the Russian border. (This unimaginative 
practice naturally was a factor in his eventual detection.) 

There is some controversy about the exact importance of the secrets that 
Redl betrayed but by even the most conservative estimates it was great. 
They included at least one document on the highest strategic level the so- 
called Plan Three for a lightning Austro-Hungarian attack against Serbia- 
detailed tactical information of major significance such as the pertinent data 
on the great Austrian fortress of Przemysl in Galicia, and last but not 
necessarily least, everything that the Russians wanted to know about Aus- 
trian espionage and counterespionage activities. For Redl, from 1900 to 
a short time before his arrest, had been chief of the Austro-Hungarian 
counterespionage and military secret service; among other services ren- 
dered his clandestine masters, he had revealed to them the identify of a 
high-level Russian traitor, also a staff colonel, who had started selling in- 
formation of strategic value to the Austrian military attache in Warsaw 
(the Russian had been discreetly encouraged by his superiors to commit 
the same "honor suicide" that was later imposed on Redl) . 

Not all these facts were divulged to the public at the time, but what was 
generally known or approximately surmised was enough to impair seriously 
public confidence in the Imperial government, if not in the dynasty itself. 
At the same time the "activist," or militarist clique in the Austro-Hungarian 
army and government reacted to the discovery of Russian spying upon 

1 When police raided Redl's flat in Prague, among strange discoveries they found 
a large and expensive collection of life-size female dolls. 


Austria almost as if it had been an outright act of aggression, calling for 
violent retaliation. To the "Activists" the Redl case underscored the need 
for eliminating the Serbian menace without delay, so as to be able to mo- 
bilize Austria's full strength against Russia when the inevitable showdown 
came. This reaction was not wholly logical, but it was understandable 
especially when we recall the impact of major spy scandals on foreign policy 
in other countries, including the United States and Soviet Russia. Spying 
has been an ineradicable aspect of the power struggle between nations ever 
since they have existed; kept within reasonable limits, it disturbs interna- 
tional relations no more seriously than prostitution or crime, within certain 
bounds, disturbs the basic order of society. But just as crime or prostitution 
when they get out of hand become intolerable social plagues, so espionage 
when it is conducted on a spectacular scale, or with a blatant disregard of 
the conventional hypocrisies of international life, is likely to be considered, 
with some justification, as a form of aggression. The Russian operations 
based upon RedTs treason constituted such a case. 

Perhaps the Russian secret service had some cloudy notion of the grave 
responsibilities it was incurring in recruiting as one of its agents the head of 
the Austrian secret service. Colonel Batiouchine, the operating head of 
the relevant military branch in Russia, through sheer slackness or reckless- 
ness occasionally exposed his Austrian colleague to unnecessary and terrible 
risks, but he went to even more terrible lengths to protect him. If we can 
trust apparently sober contemporary sources, Batiouchine systematically 
supplied Redl with the identities of important Russian spies on the soil of 
the Dual Monarchy so that he could build up his reputation for reliability 
and efficiency by arresting them. This deliberate sacrifice of one's own 
agents is not without precedent in the history of espionage, but in the Redl 
affair it was carried out by the Russians on an unprecedented scale, with 
unprecedented ruthlessness and cynicism. Within the small but important 
segment of the Czarist state represented by Colonel Batiouchine's military 
espionage service, it is probably not excessive to say that one of the essential 
dikes of civilization had crumbled and that a kind of localized regression 
had taken place to the value-systems of barbarous times. What is graver 
than that, the break was not limited to one area. It was widespread through- 
out what might be called the police sector in Czarist Russia, and in those 
organisms of Czarist diplomacy which by function, preoccupation or tradi- 
tion, shared the police outlook. This bureaucratized barbarism deserves 
closer study, but it may help to give us better perspective if we first examine 
the parallel regression from earlier ideals and restraints that set in after 
1905 among the revolutionary adversaries of the Czarist state, particularly 
among those who were destined eventually to succeed it: the Bolsheviks. 

The name "Bolshevik" dates back to a congress of the Russian Social 


Democratic party (composed of revolutionary Marxists) held in London in 
1903. The faction headed by Lenin who after a term of prison and banish- 
ment to Siberia had escaped to Western Europe in 1900 won a majority 
(in Russian, bolshinstvo) on every major issue under discussion. Under- 
lying the purely technical ones were the basic problems of whether the 
party should be run along normal parliamentary lines or whether it should 
be a disciplined combat group under the leadership of "professional revolu- 
tionaries" like Lenin himself; whether it really believed that violent revolu- 
tion was the ineluctable road to socialism, or whether, like most Western 
Socialists, it merely paid lip service to the formula; above all, whether or 
not it accepted Lenin's doctrine that once fhe revolution had triumphed, a 
dictatorship of the proletariat must be established to build a socialist so- 
ciety. To earnest Russian Marxists these were grave and fundamental 
options; the bitterness generated by the division of opinion over them was 
aggravated by the fact that while Lenin won over a majority of the delegates 
who had been able to reach London, his main opponents, the Mensheviks 
(minority) undoubtedly represented a majority of the party as a whole. A 
third body in Russian Marxism, an organization of Jewish Social Democrats 
called the Bund, stood close to the Menshevik position. 

After the 1905 revolution the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks 
steadily widened, as Lenin's doctrine of revolution became increasingly 
rigid and implacable. In his own mind Lenin was merely applying, or at 
most developing to their logical conclusion, the classic dogmas of Marxism; 
in reality he was laying the foundations of a new philosophy which was 
destined much later to become known after it had already been half- 
superseded in its turn by an even grimmer mystique of power as Leninism. 
To understand it, one must study, among other things, the personality of its 
creator, though Lenin, himself, would no doubt have indignantly denied 

Lenin was one of the great human paradoxes of all times, not only be- 
cause he was so full of contradictions, but because these contradictions of 
character fused into such astonishing consistency of action and thought. 
There was a paradoxical element even in his physical appearance. There 
was undoubtedly something of the intellectual revolutionary in the looks of 
this stocky little Slav, with his domelike head, nearly bald from early man- 
hood, his snub nose and high Tartar cheekbones, his slightly disquieting 
hazel eyes, and his small reddish-brown beard and mustache, but there was 
more of the neighborhood confectioner. Lenin's cheap, sometimes shabby, 
but always neat and proper clothing contributed to the bourgeois effect: 
during his period of exile from his thirtieth to his forty-seventh year he 
was more often seen in a bowler hat than in the workman's blouse and cap. 

Whether in Munich, Geneva, London, Paris, or Zurich, Lenin's life was 
as bourgeois as his appearance. Weekdays he studied in some library or 


wrote; on Sunday he and his wife, Nadejda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, bi- 
cycled in the suburbs or strapped on rucksacks and went for long walks in 
the country. Occasionally Lenin indulged in a game of chess with some 
friend at a neighborhood cafe, but he sedulously avoided such bohemian 
meeting places as the famous Cafe de la Rotonde in Montparnasse, the 
Left Bank artists' quarter in Paris, where many of the Russian emigres gath- 
ered night after night, to smoke, to drink, to argue endlessly about politics 
and art. 

There was only one anomaly in the studious middle-class correctness of 
Lenin's personal life, but it was a highly significant one: his strange rela- 
tionship with a French-born woman revolutionary who called herself Inessa 
Armand. (There is a certain obscurity about her background; some sources 
give her maiden name as Elizabeth Pecheux dlferbenvflle, others as Lies 
Stephane.) Inessa, who had been brought up in Russia by an aunt serving 
as governess in a wealthy Russian family, was five years younger than 
Lenin. She was a statuesque, handsome blonde with slightly bovine features 
(Lenin's wife, Krupskaya, was frankly homely and dressed with a lack of 
glamour notable even in 6migr6 Marxists circles). Inessa had drifted away 
from her husband, a well-to-do Russian landowner with intellectual lean- 
ings, after bearing him five children, and had joined the Bolsheviks during, 
or possibly before, the 1905 revolution. She had been imprisoned and de- 
ported to Siberia and had escaped to the West in 1909. It is not certain 
when she first met Lenin, but from 1910 until the end of his exile she kept 
popping up in his life. (She returned to Russia with him on the famous 
sealed train, and died of cholera in the Caucasus during the Civil War.) 
She was a constant visitor to his lodgings and frequently accompanied 
Krupskaya and him on their Sunday hikes. 

Krupskaya treated Inessa almost like a younger sister, and after her death 
spoke of her with a curious mixture of reticence and affection. Nina Gour- 
finkel, who has written a popular but solidly documented biographical 
sketch of Lenin, based in part on interviews with one-time members of his 
entourage in exile, suggests that Inessa was the great love of his life. There 
was certainly a romantic and intensely Russian element in their Mend- 
ship; Inessa, besides helping Lenin at times with his professional corre- 
spondence, lightened his rare off-duty hours by playing Chopin and 
Beethoven on the piano to him his favorites were the Kreutzer and the 
Moonlight sonatas and they had a common literary enthusiasm. This was 
a once-famous Russian novel called What to DO significantly the tide 
chosen by Lenin for one of his early tracts about a woman revolutionary 
who in an emancipated and idealistic way shares her life with two men, but 
who is so prolixly honest with both of them in analyzing her problems that 
she cannot have had much time left for any other sharing. According to 
Mme. Gourfinkel, Lenin read this revolutionary pot-boiler, steeped in Na- 


rodnik sentimentality, no less than five times; Inessa was inspired by it to 
write a pamphlet in favor of free love. 

Here the complexity of Lenin's character reveals itself with extraordinary 
clarity. Replying to a letter from Inessa about her proposed pamphlet, Lenin 
lectured her in the same doctrinaire, pedantic tone with which he ha- 
bitually reproved deviants from the party line, as fixed by him: 

"You write: 'Even an ephemeral passion or a liaison are purer and more 
poetic than kisses without love between vulgar and trivial married couples'. 
Is this opposition really logical? . . . Why passion, rather than love? . . . 
Why ephemeral? . . . Wouldn't it be better in this popular tract to hold in 
contrast to the kind of dirty and vulgar marriage without love practiced by 
the bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the intelligentsia, the ideal of civil, 
proletarian marriage with love?" 

This is the familiar Lenin, the revolutionary prig, the dry fanatic, the 
calculating propagandist, the intellectual who prided himself above all else 
on being down to earth. But underneath one clearly sees the repressed 
idealist, despising mere "passion" as against "love," aspiring after the 
eternal rather than the ephemeral. One also sees the naive cultist with his 
sacramental belief in the rites of civil anti-marriage, with his radiant myth 
of the love-worthy and love-able proletarian, the inverted twentieth-century 
version of Rousseau's noble savage. Lastly, one sees the blight of the cor- 
rosive, and corroding, contempt for human weakness inspired, perhaps, by 
the memory of how supposedly liberal and humanitarian-minded friends 
had turned their backs on the Lenin family when his brother had been 
arrested that sometimes betrayed Lenin into betraying his own humanity. 

Leninism that is the total body of Lenin's thought and practice, not the 
mummified corpse of Leninist theory propagated after his death transposes 
all these conflicts of Lenin's personality to the political plane. They were 
both aggravated and put into practical harness by the early Bolshevik cult 
of the revolutionary will and by their vocation for the heroic life. These 
nearsighted, stoop-shouldered, incorrigibly urban intellectuals were no less 
incorrigible though one suspects, usually synthetic men of action than 
such chest-beating bourgeois contemporaries as Teddy Roosevelt, Winston 
Churchill, or Cecil Rhodes. Thanks, however, to their Marxist intellectual 
formation, they were not mere believers in action for the sake of action, 
but something even more dangerous: dervishes of the effective act. They 
had an almost idolatrous admiration for professionalism. 

In Czarist Russia conspiracy was the precondition for effective revolu- 
tionary action or so the Bolsheviks believed and being a professional 
revolutionary therefore implied being a technician of conspiracy. Lenin 
deliberately, almost ecstatically, steeped himself in the professionalism of his 
calling. His letters and many of his newspaper articles are peppered with 


technical, do-it-yourself advice on the preparation and use of invisible inks, 
bomb-making in the home, how to be a success in street fighting, and re- 
lated subjects. During the 1905 revolution Lenin came close to bridging the 
psychological gap that had hitherto separated the Marxist revolutionaries 
in Russia from the cultists of terror like the Social Revolutionaries and the 
Anarchists. In fact he even shocked some of the more high-minded terror- 
ists by organizing bank holdups and other systematic acts of brigandage- 
termed expropriations or "exes" to raise funds for the party. 

A congress of Russian Social Democrats including both Bolsheviks and 
Mensheviks held in Stockholm early in 1907 banned further "expropria- 
tions" but unwisely authorized Lenin to create a "Military Technical 
Bureau" for defensive action against the attacks of the extreme-Right Black 
Hundred gangs. Under this cover Lenin and several of his trusted lieuten- 
ants who had remained in Russia proceeded to organize the expropriation 
raids on a bigger and bolder scale, utilizing squads of so-called boyeviki 
who were officially supposed to be free-lance desperadoes over whom the 
party had no control. To support this fiction Lenin kept the proceeds from 
the "expropriations" to build up his factional machine, instead of turning 
them over to the central party treasury. The boyeviki, though they also per- 
petrated some daring robberies in Moscow and even in the capital, were 
particularly active in the Caucasus where their operations were directed by 
a sullen pock-marked Georgian, a former theological student named Josef 
Vissarionovich Dzhugashvfli, who also used the conspiratorial pseudonym 
Koba, and the pen name Stalin. On occasion Stalin took part in the raids- 
he also took part in the party congress at Stockholm which had outlawed 
them but his field commander was usually a tough, cheerful, cross-eyed 
incredibly daring young fellow Georgian named Ter Petrossian, alias Kamo, 
the Jesse James of the Russian revolutionary movement. 

Kamo raised an outlaw band of several hundred mountaineers, trained 
them, and indoctrinated them, more or less, with Marxist principles; some 
of these highwaymen-comrades were perhaps a bit hazy on dialectical ma- 
terialism but they could and did pass the stiffest examinations in laying 
ambushes, and in diversionary bomb-tossing. At their head Kamo carried 
out a brilliant series of train and bank robberies, attacks on police posts 
and guerrilla skirmishes in the hills. He was several times captured and 
questioned under torture* Twice he was sentenced to the gallows, and he 
was once forced to dig his own grave. During one period of detention he 
avoided execution by pretending to be insane and successfully kept up the 
simulation for four years, finally escaping from his prison-asylum in the 
Caucasus and making his way to France. 

Off duty, Kamo was a gentle, warmhearted fellow with a kind of school- 
boy hero-worship for Lenin. Lenin and Krupskaya were touched by his 
devotion and he was a special favorite with Krupskaya's mother; when 


Lenin was hiding in Finland after the collapse of the 1905 revolution, 
Kamo would sit for hours in the old lady's kitchen munching almonds and 
boasting to her about the sparrows he had tamed while he was in prison; 
then he would strap on a rucksack weighted with revolvers and bombs and 
head back for St. Petersburg on some hazardous underground mission. 
Krupskaya relates how Kamo during this Finnish period of Lenin's once 
threw a scare into the emigr6 group by walking up to them in a restaurant, 
flamboyantly dressed in the Caucasian national costume and carrying under 
his arm a big round parcel that everyone supposed must contain a bomb. It 
turned out to be a melon that his aunt had sent him from the Caucasus and 
which he had smuggled across the border to present to Lenin. 

Kamo's most famous exploit was the Tiflis stagecoach robbery carried 
out under Stalin's personal supervision in June 1907. The stagecoach, con- 
taining the equivalent of more tha,n $100,000 in Russian banknotes, was 
rolling through the streets of the city, headed for the bank, with a military 
guard and an escort of armed Cossacks. Kamo's men dropped a large 
bomb on the convoy from the roof of a house, then attacked it with re- 
volvers and grenades. They made off with the money, and Kamo got away 
with part of it to Berlin. 

Difficulties inevitably arose in changing the loot the Russian authorities 
had naturally circulated the serial numbers of the stolen banknotes, which 
were all in 500-ruble denomination. Maxim Litvinov, who later became the 
Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, was arrested trying to pass some of 
them in Paris. One of Lenin's associates who, as we shall soon see, had 
been the brains behind most of the "expropriations" hatched a compli- 
cated scheme for doctoring the serial numbers of the notes that Kamo was 
holding. Either as part of this operation, or in an attempt to add forgery to 
robbery as a means of raising funds, some watermarked paper was pur- 
chased by Bolshevik agents in Germany. Thanks to one of the numerous 
Okhrana spies in the party, the Prussian police were tipped off about the 
plot, and Kamo was arrested with the Tiflis banknotes in his possession. 
It was while awaiting extradition that Kamo, on the advice of his German 
lawyer, decided to feign madness. 

The police investigation in Berlin revealed that the Bolsheviks had cyni- 
cally and ruthlessly exploited their unsuspecting Prussian comrades; the 
watermarked paper for the proposed venture in forgery had been shipped 
without the knowledge of the German Social Democrats to the address of 
their Berlin newspaper Vorwaerts. There were also indications of a some- 
what nebulous plan on Kamo's part to "expropriate" the Mendelssohn 
Bank in Berlin. 

The resultant scandal was tremendous. To most Western Social Demo- 
cratsand even to some Bolsheviks the boyeviki had ceased to be revolu- 
tionaries and had turned into plain criminals. Lenin came under heavy 


criticism, but he remained unperturbed and scornful. Under Menshevik 
pressure a party investigating committee was set up to look into the Tiflis 
affair and the Berlin scandals but Lenin by clever maneuvering managed to 
have them hushed up. Stalin was suspended from the party, but eventually 
reinstated. At the time no evidence directly linked Lenin with the activities 
of the Caucasian boyeviki, but it was later revealed that most of the spec- 
tacular expropriations, including the Tiflis raid, had been explicitly au- 
thorized by a self-appointed secret committee an underground within the 
Bolshevik underground one of whose members was Lenin himself. 

The other two members of this clandestine planning board, afterward 
nicknamed the Troika, were Alexander Bogdanov, a scientist and Marxist 
theoretician, and Leonid Krassin, one of the most extraordinary personali- 
ties of the Russian revolution. A high-paid engineer working for a big Ger- 
man firm, Krassin was also a conspiratorial genius. Neither the Okhrana 
nor most of his Bolshevik comrades suspected his true role in the party, 
which at one period was more important than Lenin's. For many years 
Krassin was the real head of the underground Bolshevik organization in 
Russia; his most essential activity was smuggling in arms for the revolution 
especially in 1904 and 1905 but he was also the planning brains behind 
the boyeviki gangs. It was Krassin's fertile mind that concocted the scheme 
for changing the serial numbers of the Tiflis banknotes, and he who had 
ordered the mysterious watermarked paper in Berlin. 

Eventually, Lenin came to the conclusion that the boyeviki were getting 
out of hand and ordered them to be disbanded. Apparently he also felt that 
Krassin was allowing conspiracy to become an obsession with him, and in 
1909 the two men quarreled; Krassin dropped his revolutionary activity, 
and when he rejoined the Bolshevik ranks after 1917 it was to serve the 
revolution as its ambassador as far as is known an impeccably respectable 
one in Paris and London. 

Despite his break with Krassin and his suppression of the boyeviki, 
Lenin never completely repudiated bankrobbery as a legitimate adjunct to 
revolution. In 1912 he sent Kamo who had escaped from prison in 1911 
on a clandestine arms-buying mission through the Balkans and then or- 
dered him back to Russia for a desperate and ill-fated "expropriation/ 12 

2 Kamo, after completing his Balkan assignment, made his "way back to the Caucasus 
and reassembled a group of his old boyeviki to engage in fund-raising activities for 
the party. They attempted an attack on a bank in the dashing old-time style, but it 
failed and Kamo was once more captured. Imprisoned in the fortress of Metekh with 
four death sentences now hanging over him, he was saved from the scaffold by the 
public prosecutor who so admired Kamo's lion-hearted courage that he purposefully 
dragged out the legal proceedings until a general amnesty celebrating the tricentenary 
of the Romanov dynasty in 1913 commuted his sentence to twenty years of forced 
labor. He was released by the 1917 revolution and played a heroic part in the civil 
war. He finally was killed during the early 1920s in a traffic acddent-inllnis. 


He also continued to make use of various shady or unsavory characters, 
including several who he almost certainly knew were double agents. 

"A central Committee, to be effective," he once said (according to David 
Shub), "must be made up of gifted writers, able organizers and a few in- 
telligent scoundrels." 

The formula unquestionably fitted the Bolshevik central committee, 
whose quota of intelligent scoundrels at different times included from one 
to as many as five informers of the Okhrana. 

Lenin's cynicism, his ruthlessness, and his dictatorial management of 
party affairs were repeatedly denounced by both Western and Russian So- 
cial Democrats as contrary to true Socialist ideals. "No party could exist 
under the regime of this Social Democratic Czar, who regards himself as a 
super-Marxist, but who is in reality nothing but an adventurer of the high- 
est order/' thundered Charles Rappaport, a Socialist of Franco-Russian 
background who later became a well-known Communist journalist. Even 
Trotsky, an early admirer of Lenin who held himself aloof from the 
Menshevik-Bolshevik quarrel, could no longer swallow some of Lenin's 
methods. "The entire edifice of Leninism at present rests and lies on falsi- 
fication, and carries within itself the poisonous seeds of its own disintegra- 
tion," he wrote to a Menshevik leader. - 

Curiously, there was little contemporary criticism among European So- 
cialists of what today seems one of the more questionable episodes in 
Lenin's revolutionary career: his move from Paris to Austrian Galicia in 
1912. Both in Cracow, where he first settled with Krupskaya and Inessa 
Armand and later in Poronin, in the mountains, he was conveniently near 
the Russian border. Whether for conferring with overt representatives of 
the Bolshevik center in Russia it was legally tolerated after 1907 or for 
smuggling in clandestine propaganda and instructions to underground 
groups, Galicia was a much better base of operations than Paris or Geneva. 
It was also, however, one of the most sensitive frontiers in Europe espe- 
cially after the Redl case. The police and military authorities of the Dual 
Monarchy kept a particularly vigilant eye on all comings and goings across 
the Russian border; while not as pathologically suspicious as their Russian 
counterparts, these guardians of an empire where the Metternich tradition 
was still honored were notable neither for their liberalism nor for their 

Naturally, Lenin needed to have the authorization of the Austro- 
Hungarian authorities before settling down in Galicia with his wife and 
helpers. It was obtained for him by one of his more mysterious friends, a 
Polish Social Democrat by nationality an Austrian subject named Jacob 
Fuerstenburg, also known at various times as Ganetsky and Hanecki, who 
was later to play a role in connection with an even more questionable 
phase of Lenin's career. Undoubtedly the Austrians reasoned quite cor- 


recfly-that allowing the emigre Bolsheviks to set up an operational base 
for that was what it amounted to on the Russian border would help the ob- 
jectives of their cold war with Russia. Austrian appreciation of Galicia's 
strategic potentialities had already been indicated by the support given 
another group of exiled revolutionaries from Russia Jozef Pilsudski's 
Polish nationalists who, with the help of certain friends in the Austro- 
Hungarian General Staff, were receiving training for guerrilla warfare at 
secret camps in Galicia. The Austrians were also in touch with an Ukrainian 
nationalist underground. However useful the Bolsheviks might be con- 
sidered, it still seems highly unlikely on the basis of everything that 
we know about the Austrian bureaucratic mind that they would have 
been allowed to operate across the Russian border without some discreet 
Austrian supervision of their activities; if nothing else the Austrians would 
need to make sure that no "expropriations" were being organized too pro- 
vocatively close to the border; they would probably want to take precau- 
tions, too, against the Russian secret service slipping some agents into the 
stream of legal or clandestine visitors to Lenin's headquarters. 

It is possible, of course, that arrangements were made by the Austrian 
authorities to supervise Lenin's revolutionary activities without his know- 
ing it possible but somewhat improbable. Of course, depicting Lenin as an 
"agent" of the Emperor Francis Joseph is even more absurd than the at- 
tempts that were made later to depict him as an agent of Wilhelm II. Lenin 
was never the agent of anyone, or of anything, but his own implacable 
dream of revolution. There is a strong suspicion, however, that in the serv- 
ice of his dream he deliberately allowed himself to be exploited for a while 
as a weapon in the Austrian secret-service duel with Russia. To that de- 
gree he bears some modest share of responsibility along with the autocrats 
and the gun merchants for World War I. 

There was one daily newspaper in Russia that had a single subscriber: 
the Czar. It was published by the Ministry of the Interior, and it consisted 
exclusively of information about the activities of the secret police and of 
the penal administration for political prisoners. The sheet probably con- 
tained everything of importance known to the Minister of the Interior him- 
self, but like every other newspaper in Czarist Russia it was heavfly 
censored; some of the police news was not considered fit to print, even in 
a classified publication for the Emperor's eyes alone. 

The censoring was done, of course, by the policemen themselves, that is 
by the officials not necessarily at the top level of the Okhrana, the political 
secret police. Nominally reporting to the Ministry of the Interior, but ac- 
tually a law unto itself, the Okhrana was only one of several Russian secret 
services; leaving aside the unofficial and the purely military ones for the 
time being, the general police, which was also under the Minister of the 


Interior, had some specialized undercover departments, and the Police of 
the Imperial Court, responsible for the protection of the Czar and his fam- 
ily, had an important secret branch which employed numerous spies and 
stool pigeons. To further complicate things, the Okhrana itself was highly 
decentralized; it had branches in several of the larger Russian cities and 
in foreign capitals, each with its own network of secret informants. 

In one form or another the Okhrana had existed since the days of Peter 
the Great, but its most spectacular proliferation took place after the assassi- 
nation of Alexander n in 1881. From 1905 on its growth was quite mon- 
strous, by 1914 it was believed to employ regularly some 20,000 officers 
and agents. Its regular budget was around $2,000,000 a year, some of it 
earmarked for press and propaganda use, but it could also draw when 
necessary on a $5,000,000 secret state fund under the Czar's personal 
control. These sums look modest by present-day standards, but they were 
enormous in the society where the salary of a secret agent was often as 
low as $15 a month. 

Like other political police services in Europe at the time for example 
the French Suret6 G6nerale the Okhrana tried to plant or recruit under- 
cover informants in the various revolutionary organizations. Its uniqueness 
lay in the scale of its operations, and in its encouragement to these inform- 
ants to play an active role within the groups they had penetrated, even 
when it meant breaking the law. After the revolution a former chief of the 
Okhrana, General Guerassimov, who headed the organization from 1906 to 
1909, revealed that he never had fewer than 120 secret agents in the left- 
wing revolutionary organizations. Most of these agents, he added mali- 
ciously, were still active in the Soviet state. One of the Okhrana's most 
remarkable undercover men was a florid, flashily dressed one-time St. 
Petersburg metalworker and labor organizer named Roman Malinovsky, 
who first spied upon the Mensheviks, and then with police approval joined 
the Bolsheviks, where he soon became a special prot6ge of Lenin's. His 
career in the party was spectacular; he was one of the "intelligent scoun- 
drels" on the Bolshevik central committee, and he rose to be the chief 
Bolshevik spokesman in the Imperial Duma-the Okhrana is said to have 
facilitated his election as a deputy by arresting his leading rivals. Lenin 
named him as the St Petersburg manager and nominal publisher of the 
Bolshevik organ Pravda, and Malinovsky faithfully submitted copy for it 
both to Lenin and to his chiefs in the Okhrana. 

Thanks to Malinovsky, the Okhrana obtained invaluable information 
about the revolutionary plans and activities of the Bolsheviks, but though 
it occasionally arrested undercover Bolshevik organizers, it made no use of 
its inside knowledge to cripple the party. On the contrary, it encouraged its 
growth, not only to build up its own agent, Malinovsky, but apparently 
because it considered the Bolsheviks, with some justification, as a dis- 


ruptive element in the ranks of the Russian Marxists. According to some 
sources, the Okhrana at Malinovsky's suggestion enabled Lenin to win a 
majority at a special party congress in Prague in 1912 by arresting three of 
his leading opponents. The symbiosis between the Okhrana and its Bol- 
shevik enemies, not only through Malinovsky, but through a host of lesser 
though no less active double agents, was close enough to leave a lasting 
mark on the operational attitudes of both organizations: the Bolshevik 
spy-phobia which later attained such monstrous proportions in the Stalin 
era was certainly in part the heritage of the Okhrana. 

The Okhrana's relations with the out-and-out terrorist groups were no 
less equivocal than its relations with the Social Democrats. For many years 
the head of the Social Revolutionary assassination squads, a bearded, ap- 
propriately villainous-looking individual named Evno Azew, was the 
Okhrana's star undercover agent Unquestionably he was strategically 
placed: the most formidable terrorist organization in Russia could not 
plan a murder without the Okhrana receiving warning in advance. There 
was, of course, one slight drawback to the arrangement: if Azew were not 
allowed a reasonable quota of assassinations his professional reputation 
might suffer, and eventually the terrorists would replace him with a more 
efficient and reliable killer. On the other hand there was a feeling in some 
police circles that Azew had been allowed perhaps a little too much scope 
when in 1904 he helped plan the murder of his own employer, Minister of 
the Interior V. K. Plehve; the feeling grew sharper the following year when 
Azew*s associates blew up the Czar's uncle, Grand Duke Serge in Moscow. 
Strictly speaking, Azew was not to blame for this outrage; he had reported 
it in good time for preventing it, but the Okhrana, apparently fearing to 
expose a useful agent by being too explicit, had passed on to the local 
authorities a warning, so vague as to be worthless. 

When Azew later reported a plot to assassinate the Czar himself, General 
Guerassimov decided that to avoid any further slips he would personally 
take over the management of his talented but redoubtable agent Thanks 
to this high-level supervision the plot was eventually foiled without damage 
either to the Czar or to Azew. Eventually Azew was exposed, but he was 
never brought to justice. When the scandal became serious the Okhrana 
helped him to escape abroad, where he remained in genteel retirement 
until his death in 1918. 

Employing terrorists as double agents is inescapably a tricky business; 
this was particularly true in Russia where the national temperament lends 
itself to complex and subtly shaded relationships intermediate between 
absolute loyalty and total treason. There were probably Okhrana agents in 
the revolutionary organizations Azew may actually have been such a case 
who did not know themselves which side they were ultimately betray- 
ing, or betraying the most Uncertainties on this score were compounded 


by divergencies among different factions in the Okhrana never exactly a 
band of brothersover whom the empire could best spare if someone had 
to be sacrificed to preserve an agent-terrorist's "cover/* Regulations pro- 
mulgated in 1907 instructed agents provocateurs to refrain from participat- 
ing in terrorist activities whenever possible; in no case were they to 
participate without first obtaining authorization from their immediate su- 
pervisors. These rules tended to eliminate some of the incidental abuses 
that had developed, but did not solve the basic moral and practical prob- 
lems of a police force trying to protect the state by conspiring with its 

The evils of the system were dramatically underscored by the assassina- 
tion of Prime Minister Peter Stolypin in 1911, who was shot down under 
the eyes of the Czar during a gala performance in the opera house of Kiev. 
The Kiev branch office of the Okhrana had received warning of a plot to 
assassinate Stolypin from one of its former agents, a man named Dimitri 
Bogrov, who had remained in touch with revolutionary circles. The 
Okhrana held off arresting the terrorists identified by Bogrov in the hopes 
of learning through him the complete details of their plan, but it passed 
on the warning to the Ministry of the Interior, which ordered drastic re- 
enforcement of the security arrangements for the protection of the Czar and 
of the high government officials scheduled to arrive in Kiev. Police threw an 
impenetrable cordon around the opera house and packed it with detectives, 
while passes and invitation cards were subjected to expert scrutiny. It 
seemed inconceivable that a terrorist could slip into the building until 
Bogrov, who had been admitted in order to brief the chief of the local 
Okhrana on the last-minute arrangements of his confederates, pulled out a 
pistol as soon as he caught sight of the Prime Minister, and shot him dead. 

On occasion the Okhrana organized escapes and prison breaks to build 
the "cover" of its agents, and though it clung to the fiction that these were 
merely passive informants, many of them were agents provocateurs in the 
most literal sense. Though the investigating committee set up under the 
Kerensky regime could not find documentary proof that the Okhrana had 
deliberately instigated street demonstrations and rebellions, there is a wealth 
of informed testimony that it did so, notably in the great Moscow uprising 
of 1905 and in similar bloody disorders in Kronstadt and Viborg. 

During the 1905 revolution the Okhrana got into the habit of working 
closely with the counterterrorists of the Extreme Right. Its chiefs sometimes 
disapproved of the "unauthorized" assassinations of liberal politicians 
carried out by the Rightist Black Hundred gangs, but they generally co- 
operated in organizing the anti-Semitic pogroms that were the main raison 
d'etre of the extremist bands. The most glaring instance of this co-operation 
and perhaps the most striking symptom of the moral regression provoked 
by the 1905 revolution-occurred in Kiev in 1911. Local "patriotic"-i.e. 


extremistorganizations accused a Jew named Mendel Beiliss of having 
murdered a little Christian boy to obtain his blood for ritual purposes. 
(There is an ancient and tenacious folk legend in parts of Eastern Europe 
that human and gentile blood is used in the preparation of matzoth.) 

Finding that the evidence presented by the local patriots was a trifle 
flimsy, the Kiev authorities appealed to St. Petersburg for help. The Im- 
perial Minister of Justice, M. Shcheslovitov, took a keen personal interest in 
the case. He not only made it clear to the prosecutor that a conviction was 
expected, but arranged that the Okhrana send a team of agents to Kiev 
to help "collect" better evidence, and also, apparently, to rig the jury. In a 
memorandum to the Czar, Shcheslovitov affirmed that the examining magis- 
trate in Kiev had information from an unimpeachable source establishing 
the guilt of Beiliss. The Okhrana drew on its secret funds to bring an ob- 
scure religious fanatic from distant Tashkent to testify as an expert witness 
at the trial. The expert, an Orthodox pope named Pranaitis, a self- 
appointed authority on Hebraic tradition, solemnly maintained in court 
that ritual murder was not only enjoined by various esoteric Jewish texts, 
but was sanctioned by the Old Testament itself. Despite or because of the 
dementia! nonsense to which it had to listen, and the heavy pressures to 
which it was subjected, the jury finally acquitted the defendant. 

At the session of the investigating committee in 1917 when Shcheslovitov 
confessed his role in the affair, one of the jurists on it asked the former 
Minister of Justice a loaded but pertinent question: "Didn't you realize 
that the indictment [of Beiliss] was at the same time an indictment of the 
religious convictions of millions of our fellow citizens? Didn't you consider 
in general that this indictment was a disgrace to Russia, because in the 
twentieth century it served as a basis for a trial worthy of the Middle Ages?" 

"No," replied Shcheslovitov. 

Yet this deluded and dishonest guardian of the law was not himself a 
backwoods fanatic. He was an eminent jurist, an intelligent and cultivated 
man. He had once been a civilized one. Before 1905 he had even been a 
liberal, and more than once had courageously opposed the Czarist estab- 
lishment, according to B. Maldakov, who edited the proceedings of the 
1917 committee and wrote a judicious commentary upon them. 

"Frightened by the prevalent disorder and the threat of revolution, he 
[Shcheslovitov] turned into a Rightist/' explains Maklakov, who knew 
him personally. Shcheslovitov resolved to break the traditions of our judi- 
cial system and to subject it to political control He terrorized the magistra- 
ture, he became the great corrupter of justice." 

Russia has always been a police state and no doubt the Czarist police 
force, secret and public, served as a reservoir of barbarous attitudes and 
traditions handed down with little softening from the times of Ivan the 
Terrible. It was not, however, the primitivesthe moral fossiles imbedded 


in the darker strata of the Czarist administration who opened the flood- 
gates of barbarism in twentieth-century Russia; as in the other disintegrating 
autocracies, it was the decadents, the self-made barbarians like Shche- 
slovitov. We have seen the same phenomenon occur many times since and 
not only in dynastic states. 3 

The infiltration of the police and the secret-service outlook into the 
higher policy-making levels of the Czarist state was no less evident in for- 
eign than in domestic affairs. The Okhrana was particularly active in Paris, 
a major center of emigr6 revolutionary activities. It operated much as the 
GPU and the MVD were later to do. The chief agent was usually attached 
to the Russian Embassy with the rank of counselor; he rendered no ac- 
counts to the ambassador but was authorized to correspond with his chiefs 
through the diplomatic pouch. Co-operation between the Okhrana unit in 
Paris and the French Suret6 was always close in the prewar years. The 
Surete helped one Okhrana official set up a special Franco-Russian or- 
ganization, disguised as a private-detective agency, to spy on the emigres. 
The Okhrana likewise organized, without protest from the French authori- 
ties, a French branch of the Russian "patriotic" organizations called the 
League for the Salvation of the Fatherland, which co-operated with French 
right-wing extremists like the Royalist Camelots du Roi. 

To neutralize the chronic protest of French Socialists and Liberals against 
its operations on French soil, the Okhrana bribed French newspapers and 
journalists of the right who were willing to follow a pro-Russian line. 
According to an expose of the Okhrana written in 1919 by one of its former 
senior officials, V. K. Agafonov, it financed a journalists' club in Paris and 
paid regular subsidies to several important French newspapers, including 

3 A closely related phenomenon that might he termed "the transmigration of 
nightmares" is illustrated by the case history of the so-called Protocols of Zion, 
an anti-Semitic forgery which, like the Beiliss case, sprang from the collaboration 
between the Okhrana and right-wing fanatics in Czarist Russia. The Protocols 
a kind of blueprint for a secret Jewish plot to dominate the world were concocted 
in 1905 by a Russian writer named Sergius Nilus, who was on the payroll of the 
Okhrana. Although Nilus claimed to have obtained his manuscript from a reliable 
person who had stolen it in the course of an ultrasecret Masonic meeting somewhere 
in France (needless to say, the Masons were depicted as tools of the mysterious 
plotters) it was later demonstrated that he had merely adapted for purposes of anti- 
Semitic propaganda an obscure pamphlet against Napoleon HE, published in Geneva 
in 1864. Nilus* forgery was republished in 1911, with Okhrana help, and again in 1917 
when it was utilized by certain White authorities for anti-Bolshevik propaganda. It 
was brought to Germany by refugees from the Baltic provinces, fleeing the Bolshevik 
revolution and the civil war in Russia. The first German publication of the Protocols 
was in 1919; in the following years the forgery became a major source of National 
Socialist anti-Semitic propaganda and contributed to poisoning the minds of millions 
of Germans. The person chiefly responsible for this exploitation of Nilus* fake was 
the Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg, a refugee from Russian Esthonia (though of Ger- 
man descent, Rosenberg was born in Reval) who was one of the main ideological 
transmission belts linking the neobarbarians of Czarist Russia with those of Hitler's 


the Echo de Paris, the Gaulois, and the Figaro. The last-named organ, ac- 
cording to Agafonov, for a while received 24,000 rubles-about $10,000 
monthly from the Okhrana. 

When Izvolsky took over the Russian Embassy in Paris he promoted 
an arrangement with the French government for influencing French opin- 
ion that was more official, but hardly less conspiratorial, than the crude 
undercover operations of the Okhrana: the Russians would open a special 
credit, drawn upon the Czar's secret funds, for the French government, 
which would then undertake to buy up the consciences and the pens of 
its own journalists in behalf of joint objectives, A letter sent by the Russian 
Prime Minister in October 1912 to his French opposite number at that 
time Poincar6 pointed out one of the advantages of the proposed system: 
It would help keep within bounds "certain appetites and certain rivalries" 
in the French press which the Russians had learned from bitter experience 
were apt to be stirred up when they approached foreign journalists di- 

There was another advantage that the Russian communication did not 
spell out but which Poincare may have been able to read between the lines. 
Izvolsky looked upon the dry, little Lorrainer, with his implacable irreden- 
tism, as the heaven-sent instrument of Russian foreign policy in France 
"If Poincare were defeated it would be a catastrophe for us," he warned 
St. Petersburg before the French presidential elections of 1913 and one of 
the secret objectives of the press campaign that Russia was proposing to 
finance was to combat the "pacifist" we would say today "appeasement" 
and therefore anti-Poincare, elements in French public life, "Do not for- 
get," Izvolsky once wrote his nominal chief in St Petersburg, "that Poin- 
car6 has to struggle with very influential elements in his own party which 
are generally hostile to Russia and openly preach that France must not be 
dragged into any war arising out of Balkan affairs." To the degree that 
the Russian propaganda-credit was likely to aid Poincar6 in his "strug- 
gles," and thereby to help his political career, it came perilously near to 
being a personal bribe to him, as well as to the French journalists who 
were actually to pocket the funds. 

Despite this slightly sordid implication, Poincar6, who was normally 
more fastidious, received a secret emissary of the Russian treasury and 
worked out with him and Izvolsky an agreement in principle for handling 
a Russian slush fund of 300,000 gold francs (about $60,000). An official 
of the French Ministry of the Interior was appointed to deal with the Rus- 
sians in the matter, but it was some time before both parties could agree 
on details. The Russian officials thought their French colleagues were too 
generous with the Czar's funds in proposing to pay some $600 monthly 
for three months to the editors of several relatively obscure dailies with 
which certain male or female prot6g6s of various French politicians had 


particularly close connections. When the first Balkan war broke out in 
October 1912, however, Izvolsky, fearing that a general European crisis 
was imminent, relented and urged that $20,000 be released to the French 
without too close scrutiny as to how it was spent 

The following year St. Petersburg at first disapproved a French request 
to unfreeze another $20,000 to neutralize an expected left-wing campaign 
against the newly established three-year military service, and also to bolster 
"the generally difficult situation of the French cabinet." Izvolsky, however, 
intervened again to break the deadlock by proposing the subsidies be made 
conditional not only upon supporting the purely French objectives already 
named, but also upon furthering "our interests, for example in Balkan 

Izvolsky, of course, worked closelyperhaps connived would be the bet- 
ter word with like-minded French diplomats and with the French general 
staff, as well as with several politicians who shared Poincare's intransigent 
nationalism. They included Alexandre Millerand, who was President of the 
French Republic immediately before Poincare, then Minister of War, 
and Theophile Delcasse, who was Minister of the Marine from 1911 to 
1913, then French Ambassador to St. Petersburg until shortly before the 
outbreak of the war. 

"If, God forbid, a crisis should occur," Izvolsky wrote in 1912, "the 
decision will be taken by the three strong personalities who head the cabi- 
net: Poincare, Millerand and Delcasse. It is our good fortune that we shall 
have to deal precisely with these three." 

To make sure that the trio of nationalist leaders in France retained its 
decisive position, the Russian Ambassador had no inhibitions about using 
his influence including the influence he had acquired, thanks to the gen- 
erosity of the Czar or of the Okhrana, over important press organs like 
Le Matinto undermine their less nationalist or more moderate domestic 
rivals. (As is normal in such intrigues, the intrigants were not always com- 
pletely frank with each other: Poincar6 was not quite as much in Izvolsky's 
pocket as the Russian Ambassador liked to imagine, and Izvolsky some- 
times neglected to inform his French allies about Russian activities in the 
Balkans that vitally concerned every member of the alliance.) 

After the Revolution the Soviets published an aptly termed Black Book of 
Izvolsky's official correspondence which was largely intended as an expos6 
of the secret diplomacy that had brought the Old World to its downfall. 
The indictment, it must be admitted, is a damning one, but the illustration 
is perhaps too extreme; Izvolsky was not conducting mere secret diplomacy 
in Paris, but a kind of diplomatic conspiracy. What made it sinister was not 
so much its aims as its methods. Neither he nor Poincare was deliberately 
plotting a European war, but the fact that their relations constituted a kind 
of permanent plot, meticulously concealed from public opinion and by- 


passing constitutional controls in both nations, had a great deal to do with 
making war inevitable. 

The conspiratorial toxins generated by the dying Russian autocracy con- 
taminated Russia's relations with her allies-and sometimes the allies, too 
just as they corrupted the revolutionary opposition at home. Aside from 
its moral implications, all this plotting and counterplotting contributed to 
the administrative breakdown of the Czarist state and to the fragmentation 
of authority. The Czar could not control the Okhrana; the Okhrana could 
not control its own agents though it controlled some that Lenin thought 
were his. The Minister in St. Petersburg officially responsible for conducting 
Russia's foreign relations was dominated and manipulated by his nominal 
subordinate, the Ambassador to France, but the Paris Embassy could not 
be, even unofficially, the co-ordinating center for the Russian diplomatic 

Czarist diplomacy with its supporting networks of spies and secret 
police and undercover propagandists was probably more unscrupulous than 
most others in prewar Europe, but its cardinal sin was the irresponsibility 
which almost of necessity permeates any system that functions to a con- 
siderable degree through invisible chains of command especially multiple 
ones. Conspiracy involves never letting the right hand know what the left 
hand is doing. On occasion this averts unpleasantness, but at other times it 
can be dangerous for instance, if the left hand happens to light a match 
at the moment that the right one is manipulating slabs of cordite. Russian 
diplomatic and paradiplomatic operations in the Balkans between 1909 and 
1914 furnish the classic example. 

The foundations for a new Russian policy in southeastern Europe were 
laid by Izvolsky, himself, before he quit St. Petersburg, and it seems proba- 
ble that he conceived it as a kind of diplomatic revenge for the humiliations 
that Austria and Germany had inflicted on Russia after the Bosnian crisis 
of 1908-1909. The Czar and the Russian new Foreign Minister, Sazonov, 
do not seem to have understood it in so aggressive a spirit, but the Russian 
minister in Belgrade, N. H. de Hartwig, almost certainly did; he was an 
ardent Pan-Slavist and had been specially picked for his critical post by 
Izvolsky. The avowed aim of the policy was to encourage better relations 
between Serbia and Bulgaria, and thereby to promote stability in the 
Balkans; the real aim at least in Hartwig*s mind was somewhat less idyllic, 
It was expressed in a secret annex to a defensive treaty signed in March 
1912 between the two chief Balkan rivals. This annex provided for carving 
up Turkish Macedonia between Bulgaria and Serbia; one of its clauses 
stipulated that the Czar's arbitration would be accepted for any contested 
territories a foresighted arrangement, in view of Balkan history. 

When Poincarfi learned the full text of the treaty completed by a mill- 


tary convention-during a state visit to St. Petersburg in August 1912, some 
five months after it had been signed, he blew up. 

"This convention in no way corresponds to the account of it that was 
given me," he protested to Sazonov. "To tell you the truth, it is a conven- 
tion for war. Moreover the treaty contains the germ not only of a war 
against Turkey, but of a war against Austria." 

Sazonov tried to reassure him by declaring that Russia had the right to 
veto any aggressions projected by tie Balkan allies, and would not hesitate 
to do so. Despite this assurance, Serbia and Bulgaria, their appetites whet- 
ted by Turkey's impending defeat in the Tripolitanian war (started by 
Italy's invasion of Tripolitania in 1911), broadened their alliance into a 
coalition with Greece and Montenegro, and opened hostilities in October 
1912 without, of course, a Russian veto, and without any significant mani- 
festations of Poincare's displeasure. 

In one sense the French President had been unusually prophetic, but in 
another he had overestimated the danger. The Balkan war produced a 
violent European crisis that gave the Kaiser a chance to do some more 
saber-rattling, and it left the whole diplomatic situation in Europe in a 
more precarious state than ever, but the only other war that came out of it 
directly was a second one in the Balkans. The first one ended with the de- 
feat of Turkey and its virtual eviction from Europe, but the victorious 
allies, as might have been expected, almost immediately fell to squabbling 
over the loot. Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece; Rumania, which had 
been left out of the first conflict, attacked Bulgaria, and the Turks natu- 
rally joined in, hoping to recoup their losses. When it was all over, Turkey 
had lost a good deal of mountainous real estate; Bulgaria, Montenegro, 
Rumania and especially Greece had gained some; Serbia had acquired 
more than 1,000,000 new subjects but her dream of getting a window on 
the Adriatic had been blocked, at Austrian insistence, by the creation of an 
independent Albania. The map of the Balkans had changed, but not the 
political climate; everyone continued to hate everyone else, perhaps a little 
more bitterly than before. 

The gravest repercussions of the Balkan conflicts were indirect. Ger- 
many, fearing a new Balkan attack on the Ottoman Empire that might 
lead to its final dismemberment, drew closer to Austria whose Balkan pol- 
icy had earlier inspired serious misgivings and with the agreement of the 
Young Turks, dispatched a German general, Liman von Sanders, to re- 
organize the Ottoman Army. This move infuriated and frightened the Rus- 
sians: if German military power with the connivance of a puppet Turkish 
government established itself astride the Dardanelles, it would be a threat 
not only to Russia's ambitions but even to her security. An imperial crown 
council held in St Petersburg on February 21, 1914 came to the gloomy 
conclusion that only a general European war would enable Russia to real- 


ize her "historic aims" i.e. seizure of Constantinople and control of the 
straits. The same council estimated, however, that Russia would not be 
adequately prepared to face a major conflict for at least two or three years. 
This estimate, while it did not basically modify Russia's Balkan policy, in- 
jected a note of prudent realism into it that was apparent even in Belgrade. 
Unfortunately, this was true only of official Russian policy the right-hand 
one. The left-hand policy remained as reckless as ever particularly in 

For several years Hartwig, the Russian Minister, had worked with both 
hands to build up the Balkan coalition against Turkey and to encourage 
Serbian ambitions for uniting the South Slavs, under Serb leadership, at the 
expense of Austria-Hungary. With the right hand he pursued these objec- 
tives through his normal diplomatic contacts with King Peter, Crown 
Prince Alexander, and the Serbian government. With the left hand-espe- 
cially through his military attach6, Colonel (later General) Victor Ar- 
tamanov he gave financial, paramilitary and other kinds of support to 
ostensibly private but actually semiofficial organizations of what were 
euphemistically termed Serbian nationalists (in Austrian, Turkish, and Bul- 
garian eyes, they were Great-Serbian imperialists). 

The most fateful of these Russian-supported irredentist, or expansionist, 
groups in Serbia was a secret society that called itself Union or Death but 
which was popularly known as the Black Hand, because of its conspirato- 
rial mentality and organization. According to its statutes, the Black Hand 
aimed at achieving fhe union of "all the Serbs," including, of course, those 
of Turkish or Bulgarian Macedonia, and those living in Bosnia and else- 
where in the Dual Monarchy. At home it operated as an extremist pressure 
group dedicated to the task of committing Serbian official circles and 
Serbian public opinion to Serbia's proposed mission as "the Piedmont of 
the South Slavs" i.e. playing the same role in South Slav unification that 
fhe kingdom of Savoy had played in Italian unification. Beyond Serbia's 
borders the Black Hand sought to promote its objectives by subversive ac- 
tion with emphasis on terrorism rather than what it somewhat contemptu- 
ously termed "intellectual propaganda." With such a program, the Black 
Hand had to organize itself and to operate along conspiratorial Iines 9 
though the Balkan love of conspiracy for its own sake no doubt was re- 
sponsible for some of its more melodramatic trimmings. Members were 
known to each other only by number, they swore extravagant oaths of se- 
crecy and blind obedience, and observed colorful rites borrowed from the 
Freemasons, the nineteenth-century Italian Carbonari, and similar sources. 

Despite all these operetta flourishes, Union or Death was a serious or- 
ganization of serious-minded and influential men. Its members were fa- 
natics, but political fanaticism in fhe Balkans was neither abnormal nor 
discreditable. The army was strongly represented in fhe society, and its 


head was none other than Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the chief of the 
military intelligence department of the Serbian Army. For several years, in 
fact, the Black Hand was an unofficial auxiliary of the Serbian Army 
and to a lesser degree of the Serbian foreign office. Dimitrijevic, known 
in conspiratorial circles as Apis, seems to have got into the habit of switch- 
ing hats the military one and the Black Hand one so casually that 
neither his colleagues on the executive committee of Union or Death, nor 
his superiors in the army, ever knew exactly what he was doing. By playing 
one connection against the other, he was able to exploit the considerable 
assets of both without being subject to the control of either a situation 
that was wholly to his taste. 

Apis the pseudonym suits him better, as well as being shorterwas a 
heavy-shouldered, bull-necked, bullet-headed man with the luxuriant 
black handlebar mustaches of the typical Serbian Army officer in his day. 
From his photographs he does not look particularly intelligent, and prob- 
ably he was not, but he was a prodigious worker and had a forceful per- 
sonality. He was brave, and he could be brutal, but essentially he was a 
staff-officer type, a military bureaucrat He excelled in desk warfare even 
more than in the mountain variety; he was a master of administrative 
guerrilla, as well as of the other kind. He does not appear to have pos- 
sessed much imagination and his patriotic fanaticism, or idealism, seems 
to have been of a rather formal and pedestrian strain. 

"I die innocent and in the belief that my death is necessary to Serbia for 
higher reasons," Apis declared after a Serbian court condemned him to 
death on an obscure and confused indictment of treason in 1917. There 
are grounds for believing that Apis had some specific and to him, ade- 
quatereasons in mind for concurring in his own execution, but his use of 
the administrative cliche at such a solemn moment seems revelatory. In 
the world of routine fanaticism that was Apis' as in the world of bureauc- 
ratized conspiracy that was peculiar to the Okhrana "higher reasons" was 
as definite a justification as was ever needed for murder, judicial or other- 
wise. (Twenty years later, it will still be valid for the successors of the 
Okhrana, but in keeping with the spirit of a more progressive age, their 
victims will no longer have the right to die innocent) 

Apis had few interests outside his job or rather his jobs but what lit- 
tle private life he had was normal and decent His nephew remembered 
him as affectionate and relaxed in the family circle. Nothing, apparently, 
in Apis' character or background fitted him to play a role as one of history's 
star villains; it was the context that made the man. 

The Russian Embassy was an important element in the context. Before 
and during the first Balkan war in which the Black Hand played a con- 
spicuous role, organizing guerrilla bands behind the enemy lines the Rus- 
sians gave financial and political support to the organization, as did Crown 


Prince Alexander. For a long time, not only the Russian military attach6 
but the Ambassador, Hartwig, were in intimate contact with Apis. There is 
no suggestion that he personally pocketed any Russian funds, but the Rus- 
sians looked upon him as their particular friend, if not quite their agent, 
and quite naturally tried to build him up in influence. Their success with 
the help of the Black Hand's guerrilla achievements in Macedonia was 
altogether too brilliant. The Balkan wars dangerously inflated the prestige, 
the egos, and the recklessness of the Serbian officer caste. This was particu- 
larly the case with those who belonged to the Black Hand starting with 

Apis became, in fact, such a powerful figure in Serbian political life that 
he fell out both with the Crown Prince according to one version Alexan- 
der never forgave Apis for not yielding to hjrn the secret chairmanship of 
the Black Hand's executive committee and with the Prime Minister, 
Nicholas Pasic. Apis had participated in the assassination plot against the 
last Obrenovitch king and his devotion to the Karageorgevitch dynasty 
which he had helped set upon the throne was probably lukewarm (though 
the attempts which have been made by the Tito regime to portray him as a 
republican, or even crypto-Marxist revolutionary are not convincing). He 
is said to have been on the point of launching a military coup against the 
government when war broke out For all these reasons, and because the 
bloody anarchy unleashed by the Balkan wars had somewhat put him off. 
the role of apprentice-sorcerer, Hartwig from early 1914 on was unusually 
attentive to the counsels of prudence that were now coming from St. Peters- 
burg, and in keeping with them adopted a more aloof attitude toward 

Artamonov, the military attach^, continued, however, to see his Serbian 
colleague and friend nearly every day. It was natural enough: they were 
conducting a joint secret-service operation across the nearby Austrian 
border, with the help of a chain of Serbian customs inspectors and frontier 
guards who had been recruited as secret operatives of Apis. Artamonov's 
contribution to the operation had been to furnish some $1600 an im- 
pressive sum by contemporary Balkan standards toward financing the 
clandestine network that Apis was setting up on Austro-Hungarian soil, 
particularly in Bosnia. His agents collected military intelligence, but they 
also engaged in subversive propaganda activities among other things 
they distributed copies of the Black Hand's monthly organ, appropriately 
entitled Piedmont and it would be surprising indeed, in view of the Black 
Hand's statutes, if they did not also try to encourage local terrorist groups. 
According to former collaborators of Apis, Artamonov was fully informed 
about the subversive as well as the intelligence aspects of the project; 
whether he reported both of them to St. Petersburg and to Hartwig is not 
definitely established In any case, if any Russian official eyebrows were 


raised over these pyrotechnics at the bunghole of the Balkan powder bar- 
rel, Artamonov could reply that he was just a simple soldier doing his duty 
by helping to collect military information in regard to a potential enemy 
of his country. No doubt Apis turned over to him from time to time reports 
of some value from the viewpoint of military intelligence, and Artamonov 
could justifiably and perhaps did send his chiefs maps of Austria pep- 
pered with crossed Russian and Serbian flags symbolizing the steadily ex- 
panding Serbian intelligence network that he was helping to subsidize. 

From here on we are on haunted grounds. Some of the original con- 
troversies about the origins of the crime at Sarajevo have died down as 
more information became available to historians but there is still enough 
obscurity about certain important details to sustain quite divergent inter- 
pretation. The viewpoint that the assassination was essentially a local plot 
that spontaneously generated in the minds of young Princip and his fellow 
conspirators, to which some irresponsible nationalist elements in Belgrade 
gave rather offhand assistance, cannot be formally disproved. Neither can 
the contrary hypothesis that the murder of the heir to the Habsburg throne 
was systematically planned at a high government level in Belgrade, or 
even ia St. Petersburg. The most convincing version, at least to a journalist 
who has had occasion to investigate or to cover the investigations of 
later political assassinations in Europe, lies between the two extremes, and 
is based in the main on the conclusions reached by the Italian historian, 
Luigi Albertini, after exhaustive documentary research and interviews of 
surviving key witnesses. 

According to this version, it was in fact Apis who organized the assas- 
sinations of Francis Ferdinand and Sophie Hohenberg in Sarajevo. He 
admitted this himself in a long confession which he handed to the judge dur- 
ing his trial at Salonika (the base of the Serb Army during the war). The 
fact that the alleged text of the confession, published, with the authorization 
of the Yugoslav government in 1953, contains some passages that look 
suspiciously like Titoist propaganda, does not prove that no parts of it 
were authentic. Moreover there is the testimony of several persons to whom 
Apis talked about the affair. 

"Now it is clear to me, and it must be clear to you, too," Apis told one 
of the officers riding with him in a truck to the place where the firing squad 
was waiting for him, "that I am to be killed today by Serbian rifles solely 
because I organized the Sarajevo outrage." 

There is a mass of circumstantial evidence to support this direct testi- 
mony. On the other hand there is much evidence, too, to indicate, if not to 
prove, that he acted without the consent of any higher Serbian authority, 
and probably without realizing that this act would start a European war 
whether it would have made any difference to him if he had realized, is 
more doubtful 


What then was his motive? The most plausible one is that Apis con- 
sidered Francis Ferdinand a dangerous enemy precisely because he was a 
relatively enlightened one to the Black Hand's goal of a South Slav Union. 
When the heir to the Habsburg throne succeeded his aged uncle he might 
impose reforms that would end the discontent of the Dual Monarchy's 
Serbo-Croat subjects, in Bosnia and elsewhere, and they would no longer 
wish to secede and unite with Serbia. Hence it was important that Francis 
Ferdinand should die before the old Emperor, and the visit to Sarajevo 
offered almost unique opportunities for arranging his assassination. 

Pan-Serb, or embryonic Yugoslav, nationalism had deep roots in newly 
annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by 1914 it was beginning to put them 
down in Magyar-ruled Croatia. In free Serbia, public opinion undoubtedly 
sympathized with the oppressed race brothers in the Habsburg Empire. It 
should not be overlooked, moreover, that after the Austrian annexation of 
Bosnia in itself a deadly affront to Serb national sentiment everywhere 
Aehrenthal's policy had seemed to many patriotic Serbians a threat to their 
national independence as well as a humiliating slap at their national pride. 
Not all Serbs, or Serbo-Croats, however, whether inside or outside the 
Dual Monarchy, were as intransigent as the Princips or the Apises in 
determination to realize their aspirations, to defend their honor, or to 
safeguard their independence. It is possible that a majority of Serbo- 
Croats, both in the kingdom of Serbia and in Austria-Hungary, would 
have been satisfied for some time at least by the type of reform or accom- 
modation that Francis Ferdinand was credited with seeking (whether he 
could actually have succeeded in bringing them about seems more doubt- 
ful). Thus, if the version of Apis' motivations that has just been given is 
the right one as seems probable Sarajevo conforms to a pattern of na- 
tionalist political crime that has since become all too familiar to us. It was 
on this reading the type of outrage which the fanatical minority in a 
national movement perpetrates in order to block compromise solutions and 
to commit the more moderate majority to its extremist program. 

Above all, Sarajevo was in its conception and instigation, a typical 
secret-service crime whose real purpose and meaning was withheld even 
from the agents who carried it out; Printip and his fellow schoolboy- 
conspirators were hardly less victimized than their victims. For Apis- 
operating through one of his trusted lieutenants (a senior Black Hand mem- 
ber named Major Voja Tankosic) did not merely come to the aid of the 
Princip group, or arm them or stiffen them; he manipulated them. The 
boys, whether one looks on them as heroes or delinquents, were bona-fide 
romantics, inspired, or deluded, by a belated vision of the nineteenth- 
century national ideal. Apis, though he doubtless shared their ideal, did 
not share it with them; to him they were not subjects, in the philosophical 
sense, but objects, mere pawns in the never-ending chess game of con- 


spiracy. Probably their adolescent idealism was less useful to him than the 
ingenuousness that went with it; they would be too naive to realize exactly 
how they were being used, and he could hope that their patent amateurish- 
ness would disguise the professional planning back of their deed. 

It was particularly from his own government that Apis needed to con- 
ceal his role in organizing the murder perhaps that is the deepest reason 
why he chose to rely upon amateurs rather than to utilize the professional 
killers that he unquestionably had available in Bosnia. Sarajevo was the 
result of a secret-service plot, but it was not plotted by a responsible secret 
service; Apis was not wearing his military hat when he sent the Princip 
group on its fatal mission. It is not even certain that he was wearing the 
Black Hand hat; according to some accounts, when the Black Hand execu- 
tive committee learned what he had dispatched the young Bosnians to do, 
it ordered him, by a majority vote, to call them back (if such an order was 
actually given, Apis disregarded it). 

The Serbian government, that is Apis* enemy, Prime Minister Pasic, 
learned of the assassination plot through a secret informer planted inside 
the Black Hand, and actually took official steps to block its execution. In- 
structions were wired to the Serbian Minister in Vienna to warn the Aus- 
trian government. The warning could not expose the role of the Black Hand 
or give any details that would enable the Austrians to arrest the killers be- 
fore they could strike otherwise Pasic and the Serbian Minister would 
have been signing their own death warrants. Accidentally or not, the 
Serbian Minister sabotaged Belgrade's instructions, by the vague and 
bumbling way in which he delivered the warning. The Austrian govern- 
ment official to whom he delivered it the Joint Finance Minister, responsi- 
ble for administration in Bosnia did not appreciate its full gravity, though 
he passed it on, after a fashion. Austrian red tape and schlamperei did the 
rest; the administrative anarchy of the disintegrating Habsburg power 
fatally coincided with the disorganized backwardness of the nascent Yugo- 
slav power. 

The deepest unresolved mystery of Sarajevo is the degree of direct Rus- 
sian guilt in the assassination. Did Hartwig, the Russian minister, or Arta- 
manov, his military attach6, know in advance what Apis was plotting? 
Albertini demonstrates convincingly that it is most unlikely Hartwig was 
informed of the murder plot. Artamanov is another story a very queer and 
confused stoiy. There is some testimony that he not only knew Apis was 
organizing the assassination, but that he asked St. Petersburg for approval 
and got it. After the war, and the Russian Revolution, Albertini-whose 
dogged quest for the truth about the origins of the conflict is as fascinating 
as a good detective story found Artamanov, then a retired general, living 
in Yugoslavia, and asked him point-blank if his was the hand behind the 
hands that launched the war. It must have been an extraordinary interview. 


Artamanov admitted his close co-operation with Apis, but denied that he 
had been consulted about the assassination. He declared that he had been 
away from Belgrade on leave in Switzerland and Italy for some time before 
the crime was perpetrated, and to back this up, showed the Italian sleuth- 
historian his diary for the months of June and July, 1914. It contained no 
mention of the tragedy at Sarajevo. For the fateful date of July 24, there 
was merely the laconic note, "Austrian ultimatum to Serbia," followed, 
Albertini says, by the usual statement of Artamanov's daily expenses: "cof- 
fee-2 lire." 

Albertini came away from the interview unconvinced. The general im- 
pressed him as being not overly intelligent and without much character. He 
remained puzzled by Artamanov's continued absence from Belgrade after 
the crime and during the early days of the European crisis it engendered; 
indeed this was a strangely prolonged vacation. 

There may be one man still alive who knows the whole story; the Rus- 
sian assistant military attache, Captain Alexander Werchovski* who re- 
placed Artamanov during his absence. A friend of Werchovski, a Polish 
nobleman named Louis de Trydar-Burzynski, stated in his memoirs, pub- 
lished in Italy in 1926, that "the assassination [at Sarajevo] was perpetrated 
with the support of the Russian military attache at Belgrade, Captain 
Werchovski . . ," Werchovski, he continued, "was later War Minister in 
the Kerensky government; he was a young man whom I had known very 
well for years, and he told me quite frankly the truth about the origins, 
preparations and execution of the plot." Unfortunately, Werchovski, if he 
is living today, is not likely to tell any more about the case; when last 
heard of, he held a high command in the Red Army a curious detail in 

Albertini's final conclusion is that Artamanov was informed of the plot 
and did nothing to obstruct it. Contrary to some sources, the Italian his- 
torian does not believe Artamanov gave assurances to Apis that Serbia 
could count on Russian military aid in case the crime led to war with 
Austria. Whether Artamanov or Werchovski reported the assassination 
plan to anyone in St. Petersburg is still a wide-open question. He or they 
might have informed the Russian Minister for War, General Sukhomlinov, 
who for reasons of his own, did not pass it on to the Czar. Perhaps the 
recipient of the information if there was one was some unofficial but 
powerful behind-stage personality in Russia: one of the more bellicose 
Grand Dukes, or even one of the still more bellicose Grand Duchesses. Per- 
haps it was simply lost somewhere in the Russian bureaucratic labyrinth. 
Anything is possible. It is even conceivable that Artamanov decided to 
keep the whole thing a little secret between his friend Apis and himself. The 
moral and administrative decay of Romanov Russia had reached the point 
by mid-1914 when it was conceivable not only for the left hand to act in 


affairs of the gravest importance without the right hand knowing what it 
was doing, but for one of the fingers of the left hand, twitching independ- 
ently of the rest, to pull the trigger that detonated a world war. 

Like the treason of Redl, the intrigues of Izvolsky, and the conspiratorial 
Witches' Sabbath of the Okhrana, the murderers at Sarajevo demonstrate 
that overlaying the local power vacuum in southeastern Europe caused by 
the breakup or decrepitude of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, there 
was a vacuum of responsibility affecting a much wider area. Responsible 
government was beginning to collapse under the strains of the modern age, 
just as civilization was beginning to crumble, in all the autocraciesand in 
some of their more-or-less democratic allies. (In the Balkans responsible 
government had never existed, at least not for centuries.) The breakdown, 
it is true, was limited; the regression to barbarism was noticeable only in 
certain contexts, the relapse into anarchy was confined to certain sectors. 
Philosophers continued to philosophize, and the plumbing, where it al- 
ready existed, worked as well as ever. The trains ran often on time mail 
was delivered and taxes collected: drunkards were jailed and prostitutes 
had their cards stamped. Only the higher policy-coordinating centers of the 
state were affected. How grievously, was demonstrated, not only by Sara- 
jevo, but as we shall now see, by the failure of the Old World diplomacy to 
prevent the crisis inevitably engendered by it from ending in the general 
European war that virtually nobody in Europe wanted. 


The Failure of Diplomacy 

E there was one thing that the Habsburgs did superbly, it was 
o bury their dead. Other dynasties exploited coronations, 
marriages, or jubilees to refurbish the splendor of their public image and 
to rededicate tie loyalty of their subjects; the Habsburgs, with their essen- 
tially baroque Weltanschauung, usually tended to put the stress on funerals. 
Even in normal times the death of a Habsburg Emperor, of his heir, or in- 
deed, of any member of his immediate family, was the occasion for gran- 
diose, slightly macabre, awesomely anachronistic, mortuary pageantry. 
The tragedy at Sarajevo, one might have thought, offered the monarchy an 
opportunity to celebrate its own grandeur on an almost Pharaonic scale 
and in a highly significant political context Though the Archduke Francis 
Ferdinand had never been popular, his death on the field of honor from the 
bullets of revolutionary assassins a death rendered more poignant by that 
of his wife at his side had stirred the somewhat lethargic patriotism of 
loyal Austrians and shocked the consciences of many among the minority 
groups of the Empire who believed in freedom, or self-determination, or 
South Slavdom, but not yet in murder. (Throughout most of the Old 
World, except in Russia and in the Balkans, people were still backward in 
this respect.) The impact of the outrage on what might be termed the 
dynastic conscience the vestigial solidarity of Divine Right rulers in the 
other European monarchies was naturally no less great Since 1848, both 
the family ties between the reigning dynasties of the Continent, and the 
elements of a common ideology that they shared, had steadily lost impor- 
tance as political factors, but in 1914 they were not yet negligible ones. A 
new Metternich might have effectively exploited these classic themes of 
early nineteenth-century diplomacy to win sympathy for Austria's under- 


standable desire to punish Serbia for her suspected complicity in the crime, 
and to cushion hostile reactions to any retaliation that might be decided. A 
state funeral for the martyred Archduke would have facilitated such a neo- 
Metternichian policy by bringing together in Vienna at a solemn, cere- 
monial moment most of the crowned heads of Europe. At the very least, it 
would have muted for a while the international tensions that Sarajevo had 
begun to generate, and it would have favored British or other efforts to 
discover some face-saving formula for averting the incipient world crisis. 
Unfortunately, the Empire, though it still had plenty of diplomats who 
clung to Metternich's doctrines, had none that possessed his tactical skills; 
in fact, it was no longer capable of producing even a good funeral director. 
The same contradictions and decrepitudes that had helped send Francis 
Ferdinand to his death, dispatched him to his grave in a botched and sordid 
foretaste of the unceremonious trip to the potter's field of history which 
awaited, not only the entire Habsburg dynasty, but virtually all that sur- 
vived of the old monarchic order in Europe together with the civilization 
built upon it 

The mortal remains of Francis Ferdinand and the Duchess of Hohen- 
berg arrived in Vienna at 10 P.M. on July 2. They were met by the new heir 
apparent, the Archduke Charles, a nephew of the murdered Archduke, and 
by the officers of the Vienna garrison, who escorted them through the 
night to the little Hofburg chapel. There, the coffins, of different make 
and size, were placed side by side, but not on the same level. That of the 
Archduke was adorned with the symbols of his rank: the crown of an Im- 
perial Prince, a general's cap and saber, an Archduke's hat. That of the 
Duchess bore only a fan and a pair of white gloves a reminder of the time 
when she had been a lady in wailing. 

The next morning the public was admitted to view the bodies, but 
promptly at 12 the gates were closed and the coffins remained locked in 
the chapel until the start, at 4 P.M., of the brief requiem service. The Em- 
peror attended bnt no foreign heads of state or their representatives were 
present, although the wreaths they sent made up for the absence of floral 
tributes from the Emperor and the Court. Foreign royalties had been kept 
away on the official pretext that the aged Emperor's health permitted only 
a very brief ceremony. Wilhelm, who had nevertheless wanted to come "as 
a friend," was discouraged by hints that a band of anarchist assassins were 
plotting against his life. (Officially, it was announced that the Kaiser's ab- 
sence was due to lumbago.) A wreath of white roses, inscribed Sophie, 
Max, Ernst, lay at the foot of the catafalque, but the dead couple's three 
children were not present at the ceremony. No bells tolled, no candle bearers 
followed the procession as it left the Hofburg at dusk to wind its way to 
the West Station. Francis Ferdinand had left a will expressly stating that he 
wished his body, and that of his wife, to be laid to rest side by side at their 


castle on the Danube, at Artstetten. He knew his family Sophie Chotek 
would never be allowed to lie beside him in the Capuchin crypt where 137 
members of the August House, including the suicide, Crown Prince Ru- 
dolph, were awaiting his company. 

Vienna was agog at this shoddy performance. Everyone knew who the 
culprit was: Prince Montenuovo, the Imperial Chamberlain. (It was less 
generally known that the old Emperor had personally approved Monte- 
nuovo's arrangements.) The Chamberlain's disapproval of Sophie Chotek 
bordered on hatred, perhaps because he was a morganatic offshoot of the 
House of Habsburg himself he was a descendant of Napoleon's second 
wife, Marie Louise, who after leaving her turbulent spouse to his fate at 
Elba had married again. Among other things, the funeral was Monte- 
nuovo's revenge on the "Belvedere crowd" for their jibes at the Court's 
antiquated Spanish ceremonial, of which he was the high priest. 

But he had overreached himself. As the cortege proceeded through the 
darkening capital, over a hundred members of the Austrian and Hungarian 
aristocracy who had not been invited to the services, wearing gala uniform, 
forced their way on foot into the procession. 

If any of the small suite who accompanied the bodies by train to their 
final destination had the least premonition of the horror soon to be un- 
leashed on the world by the Sarajevo outrage, the trip to Artstetten must 
have seemed to them nightmarish beyond belief. At two in the morning, 
when the train reached the little station of Pochlarn on the Danube, where 
the coffins were to be ferried across the river, an apocalyptic thunderstorm 
drove everyone into the dingy, minute waiting room. Lightning and thun- 
der on a Gotterdammerung scale made the night hideous, and those who 
felt their necks bristling with the primeval fear inflicted by the warnings of 
Heaven could not resort to drink, or even levity, for they had to share their 
shelter with the two august corpses. When, in the gray light of dawn, the 
hearse was finally loaded on to the barge, a delayed thunderclap made the 
horses rear and plunge, and a gruesome catastrophe was barely avoided. 

For more than a week after Sarajevo, Austrian policy teetered on the 
brink of decision. Vienna seethed with excitement. Anti-Serbian sentiment, 
kindled by a majority of the press, ran strong, and several demonstrations 
took place in front of the Serbian Embassy, where the flag at half-mast 
seemed to the crowd an infuriating piece of hypocrisy. Francis Joseph, 
who returned to his summer villa at Ischl a few days after the funeral, re- 
mained, however, unmoved by the tumult in his capital. 

"Surely the Emperor thinks that today's crime may have political conse- 
quences?" his aide-de-camp, Count Paar, was asked on the day of the as- 

"Not at all," replied this worthy. "Why should it? ... This is just an- 


other of those tragic occurrences which have been so frequent in the Em- 
peror's life. I don't thinV he considers it in any other light." 

It is quite likely that Francis Joseph, who, although he had "been seriously 
ill only recently, still had all his wits about him, did not discuss higher pol- 
icy with his aide-de-camp, who was nearly as old as he was, but whose 
favorite pastime was napping. Visitors whom he received in the first days of 
July report that although he was quite unaffected by the demise of his 
nephew, he shared the general feeling in Vienna that "things could not go 
on in this way." He confided to the German Ambassador that he saw a very 
black future. From all that we know of his character, Francis Joseph can 
have had but one desire, that of finishing his days in peace. He had never 
been lucky in battle, and he was a tired old man. But revolution, and the 
disintegration of the Empire, seemed the inevitable outcome if Serbia were 
once more to remain unpunished. "If the Monarchy is doomed to perish, 
let it at least go down decorously," he said to his Chief of Staff, General 
Franz Conrad von Hotzendorff, an assiduous visitor, intent on wresting 
an order of immediate military measures against Serbia from his master. 
The Emperor, supported by his two Prime Ministers, the Austrian and the 
Hungarian, was for temporizing at least until Serbia's guilt had been offi- 
cially established. (The conscientious Ballplatz official who was sent to 
investigate Serbian complicity in the crime reported on July 13 in the 
words that he was to rue all his life, "There is nothing to indicate, or even 
to give rise to the suspicion, that the Serbian Government knew about the 
plot, its preparation, or the procurement of arms.") 

General Conrad, however, was straining on the leash. Events had pre- 
sented him with a unique opportunity the last one, he was convinced to 
destroy Serbia and to restore the prestige of the Monarchy. Twice his plans 
had been frustrated. "In the years 1908-1909 it would have been a game 
with open cards," he said. "In 1912-1913 the chances were in our favour. 
Now it is a sheer gamble (ein va-jbanque Spiel). 99 But the gamble had to be 
taken, Conrad insisted. Time was working against the Monarchy. 

Conrad, a simple military man with a straightforward manner, was the 
foremost Austrian warmonger; he was also one of the most forceful per- 
sonalities in the Empire. His chief accomplice, Foreign Minister Leopold, 
Count Berchtold (Poldi, to his friends), was by temperament the least 
bellicose of men. A wealthy aristocrat, the owner of a racing stable, who 
likewise appreciated the slenderness of a feminine ankle, a man about 
town with great charm of manner, a bit of a fop, a bit of a snob, he was 
often snapped by contemporary photographers in a rakishly tilted silk hat, 
looking the perfect boulevardier. "PoldiV vacuity of mind and flabbiness of 
character were to prove even deadlier to the world than the deviousness of 
his predecessor, Aehrenthal. He was a living, if somewhat extreme, carica- 
ture of the professional inadequacies of the European diplomat in his 


time, and his appointment as Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister (in 
1912) was evidence, no less striking in its way than Redl's treason, that the 
Habsburg Empire was indeed on its last legs. 

Conrad had been a great nuisance to Berchtold for years, badgering "Mm 
with secret memoranda on the theme of "Serbia delenda est." But after the 
two Balkan wars, in which Austria had cut a sorry figure, and the Foreign 
Minister had come in for much criticism, he had swung over to Conrad's 
views, much to the delight of the select society of lesser counts (the war 
counts, as they were known) which peopled the offices of the Ballplatz and 
liked to imitate Poldi's mania of drinking iced coffee (brought up spe- 
cially from DemeFs Cafe) at all hours of the day. Berchtold's quite un- 
military spine had been further stiffened by reports that the German ally, 
who had proved tiresome and evasive during the Balkan wars, was veering 
toward an attitude of much firmer support. Shortly after the assassination, 
the German Ambassador in Vienna, Herr von Tschirschky, had bluntly said 
to a high Austrian official, "If you take this lying down, you are not worth 
. . . on!" Moreover, a German publicist known to be a spokesman of the 
Wilhelmstrasse had sought out Count Berchtold's chef de cabinet and 
spoken to him at great length observing that in Berlin, the Foreign Ministry, 
plus the army and navy, found the "idea of a preventive war against Russia" 
less distasteful than they had a year earlier. He had assured him that if 
Kaiser Wilhelm was spoken to in the right way, he would not hesitate to sup- 
port Austria and "this time go to the length of war." 

Francis Joseph, too, needed to be -spoken to in the right way. But he 
was much less easily swayed thpn the Kaiser. Conrad, who once again 
tried to persuade him that war with Serbia was unavoidable, was received 
by htm on July 5 and found him in a very skeptical frame of mind. 

"Quite so," said the old man testily, "but how can we wage war if they 
all jump on us, especially Russia?" 

"But do we not have German re-insurance?" countered the Chief of 

The Emperor looked doubtful. "Are you sure of Germany?" he growled. 

To get an unequivocal answer to that question, Count Alexander Hoyos, 
Berchtold's chef de cabinet, had left for Berlin, bearing a memorandum on 
the Balkan situation and an autographed letter to the Kaiser from the 

The German capital on that Sunday, July 5, was a sleepy, empty town. 
Everyone was vacationing. (If Sarajevo had occurred a month earlier during 
the height of the social season in the leading European capitals, responsible 
consultation between governments, both allied and adverse, would have 
been facilitated, and the chances for saving peace would have been better. 
The work habits of high-level European officialdom, still strongly influenced 
by the aristocratic tradition of leisure, lagged far behind what the French 


historian Daniel Halevy has termed the acceleration of history resulting 
from the technological and social progress of the last two centuries and 
were not geared to the increasing proletarization of events.) The Foreign 
Minister was away on his honeymoon, Tirpitz was drinking the waters 
in Switzerland, the Chief of Staff was taking the cure at Karlsbad, the 
Chancellor was in the country, but due back on the same day. 

The Kaiser was in his summer residence in Potsdam. He had been at- 
tending the naval regatta at Kiel on the day of the Sarajevo outrage. The 
news of his friend and hunting companion's horrible death had interrupted 
the regatta and brought Wilhelm back to the capital. 

On learning that a special messenger had arrived from Vienna, bearing 
important documents, the Kaiser bade the Austrian Ambassador bring the 
papers to him in Potsdam and stay for lunch. 

The resultant talks at the Hohenzollern New Palace were in the classic 
tradition of informal diplomacy: easy, elegant, and ultimately fatal. The 
Kaiser, who was preparing to leave the next morning for his annual summer 
cruise in northern waters, received the Austrian Ambassador, Count Marish 
Szogyeni, with friendly courtesy but with somewhat more prudence than 
he usually displayed. Reading over the communications from Vienna in a 
businesslike way, he was careful to voice reservations about a passage in 
the personal letter from his Imperial cousin which mentioned "eliminating 
Serbia as a factor of political power in the Balkans." This, the Kaiser sagely 
remarked, involved "possible serious European complications." He could 
therefore give no definite answer before consulting with his Chancellor 
(Bethmann-Hollweg). Szogyeni was an amiable, good-natured man of 
the world, and also an experienced diplomat who knew his Wilhelm. If 
he felt any disappointment over the Kaiser's attitude, he was careful to con- 
ceal it. 

Lunch at which the Kaiserin and a few guests were present was a 
pleasant affair. We are told that the conversation was general and that 
the Kaiser was affable. In view of that luncheon's subsequent importance 
to the world, one cannot help feeling a certain morbid curiosity about some 
of the details connected with it that appear to have become lost in the 
haze of years. What, for example, was title menu? It seems a fair inference 
that the soup course was clear turtle everything in the situation cries for 
clear turfle-and no doubt there was plenty of well-chilled hock, the 
day being warm. Whatever was eaten, or drunk, or said, seems to have 
acted disastrously on the Kaiser's centers of diplomatic inhibition. 

In fair weather the Kaiser was accustomed to entertain his guests and 
even to transact much of his official business in the garden; it is there that 
he led the Austrian Ambassador for coffee and cigars. While the Kaiserin 
and a valet hovered in the background the other guests somehow evapo- 
ratedthe two men installed themselves on one of Wilhelm's favorite 


benches and resumed their portentous conversation. Lunch, however, had 
subtly changed the Kaiser's outlook: he was now more sanguine and less 
constitutionally minded. Without waiting for his Chancellor whose views he 
was sure would coincide with his own, he assured the Ambassador ac- 
cording to the latter's official dispatch that "even if matters went to the 
length of war between Austria-Hungary and Russia, we could remain 
assured that Germany, in her customary loyalty as an ally, would stand at 
our side." Although none of the Austrian written communications specified 
what measures against Serbia were contemplated, the Kaiser added, in the 
words of the Ambassador's report: 

"He quite understood that His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty 
with his well known love of peace, would find it hard to march into Serbia, 
but if we have really recognized title necessity of military measures against 
Serbia, he [the Kaiser] would deplore our not taking advantage of the pres- 
ent moment, which is so favorable to us." 

Later in the day, when the shadows were lengthening in the park, the 
Kaiser strolled under the trees with Bethmann-Hollweg who had been sum- 
moned from his country estate and acquainted him with what he had said 
to the Austrian Ambassador. If the Chancellor had any objections, he did 
not air them. Likewise, there were no objections from the Minister of War 
who was summoned later, nor from the acting chiefs of the General Staff 
and of the Navy Ministry whom Wilhelm saw next morning before leaving 
for Kiel. 

"I do not believe in any serious warlike developments," he said to the 
Navy man. "The Czar will not place himself on the side of regicides. Be- 
sides, neither Russia nor France is prepared for war." Anxious, then, "not 
to create any uneasiness," he said that he would "on the Chancellor's ad- 
vice," leave. 

Having thus dispatched current affairs, Wilhelm embarked on a cruise 
which was to keep him away from his capital for nearly three weeks, feel- 
ing apparently no uneasiness himself at having pledged the lives of some 
ten million of his subjects, who were still blissfully unaware of what was 
going on, to support an Austrian punitive expedition, the nature of which 
he did not inquire about, and the consequences of which he tried to put out 
of his mind. The Wilhelmstrasse and the German Staff heaved a sigh of 

When Count Hoyos returned to Vienna with Wilhelm's blank check, 
the Emperor Francis Joseph sighed, "Now we can no longer turn back. It 
will be a terrible war." 

Few European leaders, or observers, were so prescient. 

The bitterness against Serbia was reported by Sir Maurice Bunsen, the 


British Ambassador to Vienna, at about the same time that Hoyos was re- 
turning from his deadly mission. Bunsen had been chatting with the Russian 
Ambassador. "Mr. Schebeko doubts if the animosity penetrates deep down 
among the Austrian people . . ." The country would not **be rushed into 
war, for an isolated combat with Serbia would be impossible and Russia 
would be compelled to take up arms in defence of Serbia." 

Sir Arthur Nicolson, Permanent Undersecretary of State at the Foreign 
Office, annotated the dispatch as follows: 

"I have my doubts as to whether Austria will take any action of a serious 
character and I expect the storm will blow over. Mr. Schebeko is a shrewd 
man and I attach weight to any opinion he expresses." 

Bunsen may have been a particularly woolly minded diplomat, but 
Nicolson certainly was not. The whole system and technique of diplomatic 
reporting, with its loose generalities, its fuzzy abstractions, its technical and 
sociological naivetes, was and to a large degree still is archaic in terms of 
the requirements for twentieth-century policy planning. To make matters 
worse, because of the long peace, hardly any of the European statesmen or 
diplomats who gambled away the lives of a generation had personal 
experience of combat. The aged Francis Joseph remembered the horrors 
of the bloodsoaked field of Solferino, but most of his younger contempo- 
raries, in every European nation, and at every administrative level, were as 
blind to the human and moral implications of modern war as they were 
ignorant of its technical imperatives. 

(A number of able European diplomats, of course, operated compe- 
tently, if not effectively, within the antiquated conventions of their craft, but 
it is hard to think of any professional who in the 1914 crisis matched the 
lucidity and insight earlier displayed by that roving amateur observer from 
the New World, Colonel Edward M. House.) 

As for the nameless millions who were as yet unaware of their approach- 
ing rendezvous with death, little was heard from them in those early days 
of July. To the general public in Europe, the ripples of the Sarajevo out- 
rage seemed to have faded out. Even many persons with access to inside 
information held this cheery view. 

"The London season of 1914 had been a disappointing one for me," 
writes Margot Asquith, wife of the British Prime Minister, in her Auto- 
biography, "and not an amusing one for Elizabeth [her daughter], and I 
was anxious that she should have a little fun. I sent her alone on the 25th 
of July to stay with Mrs. George Keppel, who had taken a house in Hol- 

Even Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador to Russia, wrote 
in his memoirs: 


"As several weeks had elapsed since Sarajevo, it was hoped Austria had 
given up her punitive expedition, I had been granted leave of absence and 
had taken tickets for our journey to England." 

London at the time was sweltering in a heat wave, and perspiring news- 
paper readers were more likely to turn to accounts of the Henley regatta 
on the sports page, than to the political section, which day in day out 
featured the glum development of England's chief headache: the Irish 
Question. In Paris the newspapers were providing their readers with the 
best possible entertainment: a crime passionnel with political implica- 
tions, in the best style of the period. The heroine was the wife of former 
Finance Minister Joseph Cafflaux, one of the leading French "appeasers." 
She had found it necessary to call on Gaston Calmette, the editor of the 
ultrapatriotic Figaro, and shoot him dead to prevent him from publishing 
the letters which her husband had written to his mistress a gesture of con- 
jugal delicatesse which won her a prompt acquittal from the gallant French 

The French government itself was blissfully unaware of the detonator of 
doom, which was being readied with genteel leisureliness but with diabolical 
thoroughness, between sips of eiscaffee in the Ballplatz, On July 15, Presi- 
dent Poincar6 of France, accompanied by Prime Minister Rene Viviani, 
sailed on the five-day sea voyage to St. Petersburg for their long-planned 
ceremonial visit. By that date the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was nearing 
final-draft form, and quite a few persons already knew what that form was 
going to be. This was demonstrated by the selling wave that hit the Vienna 
Bourse after July 12, and even more by the spectacular bearish operations 
conducted on the Paris Bourse between July 12 and July 15 by a famous 
Viennese speculator. Apparently the foreign offices of Europe did not read 
the financial pages of their newspapers. They also appear to have neg- 
lected more traditional channels of information. It is quite inconceivable 
that some young French, British, or Russian embassy attach^ in Vienna was 
not at the time on intimate terms with the wife of some Austro-Hungarian 
minister., department head, or chef de cabinet or at least that he was not 
sharing with a high level Austrian official the intimacies of some opera 
singer and it seems equally inconceivable that none of these ladies knew 
what was going on, or was too security-minded to drop a hint of it 

When the detonator finally went off, on July 23, the statesmen and the 
diplomats were only slightly less surprised than the novelist Elinor Glyn, 
then at the height of her slightly scandalous success, who commented with 
asperity on the bad manners of the Austrian Ambassador in rushing 
away from a weekend house party in a chiteau near Paris at which they 
were fellow guests. Anthony OHyn relates in his entertaining biography of 
his famous grandmother that when Fielder, Elinor's chauflfeur, suggested 


the disappearance of the Ambassador was possibly a sign of impending 
war, "everyone searched hurriedly in the newspapers to see what he could 
mean and with whom the war could be." 

A brief flashback to what had been happening behind the scenes in 
Vienna and in Belgrade, while the rest of Europe settled into its normal 
midsummer torpor, may be helpful at this point. From the moment the 
Kaiser had given his unconditional backing, the government of Austria- 
Hungary had virtually made up its mind to take some kind of military 
action against Serbia. The Emperor's ministers and chief military advisers 
were not unanimous, however, as to its form. General Conrad wanted all- 
out war, with as little advance warning to the enemy as possible. Count 
Koloman Tisza, the influential Hungarian premier, a bushy-bearded, high- 
living, but exceptionally clear-thinking Magyar aristocrat, feared that this 
course would bring Russia in. Berchtold's view, which ultimately prevailed, 
was a kind of sleazy compromise between two antithetical policies. As he 
told the German Ambassador on July 14, he proposed to send the Serbian 
government a note "so phrased that its acceptance will be practically im- 
possible." At the same time, the door would be left very slightly ajar to 
some solution short of full-scale war if the Serbian government showed 
last-minute evidence of reasonableness. In provoking Serbia, every effort 
would be made to minimize the provocation to Russia and France. For 
this reason the Austrian ultimatum to Belgrade would be held up until the 
French President had started home from his Russian visit; there would be 
no chance for a warlike brotherhood "being sworn at St. Petersburg over 
the champagne under the influence of Mssrs. Poincare, Izvolsky and the 
Grand Dukes." 

A tragic accident in Belgrade may have heightened the dangers that 
were inherent from the first in Berchtold's recklessly calculated risk. On 
July 10, Baron Vladimir von Giesl, the Austrian Minister in Belgrade who 
had been recalled to Vienna for consultation, returned to his post. At 9 
o'clock that evening he received an unexpected call from his Russian op- 
posite number, the redoubtable Nicolas Henrikovitch de Hartwig. The Rus- 
sian Minister said that he had come to express his condolences "for the 
atrocious outrage" (Sarajevo), but there were undoubtedly other things that 
he wanted to say. What they were we shall never know. At 9:20 P.M., just 
as Giesl was launching into a soothing and quite false interpretation of 
Austria's attitude toward Serbia, Hartwig suddenly slumped to the floor, un- 
conscious. He was dead when a doctor examined him a few minutes later 
(he was overweight, and had suffered from angina pectoris for some years). 
An unpleasant scene ensued after the arrival of Hartwig's daughter, Lud- 
miHa. She brusquely repulsed the sympathy expressed by the Giesls, and 
poked about the room, sniffing at an eau de cologne bottle, and rummag- 
ing in some large Japanese vases. Her father had smoked only his own Rus- 


sian cigarettes, but Ludmilla had wrapped up the two butts and put them 
in her bag. Had her father had anything to eat or drink? she asked with 
unveiled suspicion. In the tense atmosphere of the time, public rumor im- 
mediately made a poisoner of the unfortunate Giesl, who was even accused 
of having brought back from Vienna an electric chair which instantly killed 
anyone sitting in it. 

Hartwig had inside knowledge of the Serbian Black Hand and its meth- 
ods (the Austrians were strangely uninformed on the subject, though the 
alert French Minister in Belgrade had already been able to ferret out for his 
government the Black Hand's role in the Sarajevo assassinations). As was 
noted in a previous chapter, he is believed to have broken off his originally 
close relationship with the fanatical brotherhood's head, Colonel Apis, and 
in general, to have started putting the brakes on extreme Serbian nation- 
alism, which he had earlier encouraged. His influence on the Serbian govern- 
ment was enormous; if his personal outlook on the Balkan problem had 
really changed as much as many historians think, big death at that crucial 
moment was undoubtedly a catastrophe for Europe. Giesl himself believed 
so. He later wrote that if Hartwig had lived beyond the "critical 25th of 
July," the war would not have occurred. 

Perhaps that is an exaggeration, however. Vienna's final instructions to 
Giesl left little room for maneuver on either side. They stated that the Aus- 
trian Minister should call at the Yellow House (the Serbian Foreign Min- 
istry) at 6 P.M. on July 23 the date and the hour had been fixed to make 
sure that Poincare and Viviani would be safely aboard ship, headed for 
the open sea and deliver the Dual Monarchy's note to the Serbian govern- 
ment whether or not Prime Minister Pasic was on hand. Moreover, Giesl 
was instructed, the answer must be one of unconditional acceptance within 
the stipulated time limit of 48 hours; no additional delay was to be granted 
under any pretext. 

The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, which the British Foreign Minister, 
Lord Grey, called the most formidable document ever addressed by one 
state to another, had been minutely and interminably hatched in the Vienna 
Foreign Office. It was finally adopted in a Joint Council of Ministers on 
July 19. Count Berchtold's main concern had been candidly described by 
the German Ambassador in a dispatch to Berlin: 

"Were the Serbs to accept all the demands, this will be a solution not at 
all to his [Count Berchtold's] liking and he is turning over in his mind what 
demands could be made that would render acceptance by Serbia abso- 
lutely impossible." 

Berchtold's soul-searching had already resulted in a list of conditions, 
the acceptance of which would have implied a revision of the Serbian con- 
stitution. Points 5 and 6 in particular, which called for the participation 


of the Austrian police in the investigation of the crime on Serb territory, 
were so clearly unacceptable to a sovereign power that at the Ballplatz they 
were referred to, with a satisfied smirk, as "die zwei punkterl" ("the two 
little points"). Other clauses would have committed the Serbian govern- 
ment to disavow "the unhealthy propaganda" directed from Serbian ter- 
ritory at subjects of the Dual Monarchy, and under the supervision of 
Austrian officials to disband the societies engaged in such propaganda. The 
kingdom of Serbia in 1914 resembled in certain respects those make-believe 
nations to which the proliferation of nominal sovereignties since World 
War n has accustomed us. Its inability to exercise real sovereignty over 
some of its own officials e.g. Apis was patent. But whatever the Serbian 
state lacked in administrative cohesion, the Serbian people, irrepressibly 
fumbling its way toward true nationhood, made up in bristly patriotism. 
The Austrian note was one that no self-respecting brigand chief could have 
accepted in its entirety. It is not certain, however, that Berchtold in approv- 
ing the final terms of the ultimatum had unconditionally joined the war-at- 
any-cost camp in Vienna. He may have had some unparalleled feat of 
acrobatic brinkmanship in mind. Albertini even suggests that by a display of 
purely verbal toughness he thought, in some convolute Viennese fashion, to 
cut the ground from under the real Austrian warmongers, who were being 
egged on in the Kaiser's absence by the German General Staff and the 
Wilhelmstrasse. (The Kaiser, himself, cruising in the Norwegian fjords, did 
not fully realize what was going on between Berlin and Vienna, but he was 
unperturbed by the Austrian ultimatum when the text reached him aboard 
the Hohenzollern, following an after-dinner card game, in the night of 
July 24. "A spirited note, what?" he remarked to his naval aide, Admiral 
von Muller, strolling on the sunny deck next morning.) 

As the Serbian Premier was out in the provinces electioneering on July 
23, the Finance Minister received the ultimatum from Baron GiesFs hand, 
observing, with some dismay, that as it was election time, most of the min- 
isters were out of town and that a Cabinet meeting was impossible in such 
a short time limit. Giesl brusquely replied that this was the age of rail- 
ways, telegraphs, and telephone, and that if Serbian acceptance was not 
forthcoming by 6 o'clock on Saturday, July 25, he would leave Belgrade 
with his whole staff. 

Forty-eight hours later, a few minutes before the 6 P.M. deadline, a tall 
old man with a bristly beard walked up to the Austrian Embassy. It was 
Pasic, the Serbian Premier, carrying an envelope under his arm with his 
government's reply to the Austrian note. It was a messy document, for the 
cabinet, in continual session, had kept amending it until the last hour, and 
under the ministrations of an exhausted and nervous secretary the only 
available typewriter had jammed so that several copies had to be made by 
hand. It was not customary for the Prime Minister of even a small kingdom 


to deliver messages, however vital, himself, and on foot But when, half an 
hour earlier, Pasic had asked, "Now, who will deliver this?" one look at the 
distress on the faces of his colleagues convinced him that ibis was a job 
he must do himself. Now he handed the envelope to the stiffly waiting 
Austrian and said in broken German: 

"Part of your demands we have accepted . . . for the rest we place 
our hopes on your loyalty and chivalry as an Austrian general" 

Giesl was, in fact, a former army officer, and he seems to have been a 
man of heart, but his instructions left him no scope for chivalry. Conditional 
or partial acceptance was to be considered as a rejection. He already knew 
what to expect before reading the Serbian reply. Encouraging news from 
St. Petersburg earlier in the day had made the Serbian leaders feel that in 
rejecting dishonor they were not necessarily accepting death for their little 
nation, and during the afternoon a train had left Belgrade with the state 
archives and treasury. When Pasic arrived at the Austrian legation, Giesl 
received him in his traveling clothes. The legation cipher books were a 
smoldering heap of ashes, and the luggage was ready to be loaded into the 
waiting automobiles. Within an hour of the Serbian premier's departure, 
Giesl, accompanied by his wife and his staff, was across the border, in- 
forming the Ballplatz by telephone that he had just broken off diplomatic 
relations with Serbia. 

A few minutes before seven on that same Saturday evening, the War 
Ministry in Vienna telephoned the news to Bad Ischl, where the Emperor 
was staying. Baron Margutti, one of the Imperial aides-de-camp, took it 
down. Francis Joseph listened with a wooden face while he read it off, then 
muttered, "Also doctt' (literally, "So, after all"), one of those prosaically 
indefinite bits of familiar German that because they mean so little can 
signify so much. Reaching for his pince-nez with trembling hands, the old 
man sat down at his desk to study the text of the message. As he was making 
unconscious gestures with his hand, as if to push back a nightmare, the 
Emperor struck a glass bowl. "The jarring sound, as if something had finally 
broken, I will never forget," relates MarguttL But Francis Joseph had 
not yet given up all hope. "Well," he sighed, collecting himself, "the breaking 
off of diplomatic relations still does not mean war." Later in the evening, 
Berchtold persuaded him to sign an order of limited mobilization. (Serbia 
had already started to mobilize.) 

Publication of the Austrian ultimatum, followed by the news of the 
rupture with Serbia and that of the two mobilizations, launched a shock 
wave of alarm throughout Europe, but did not lead to immediate panic. 
Some Europeans, grasping at straws like the aged Francis Joseph, tried to 
convince themselves that rupture or even mobilization-did not necessarily 
mean war. Others felt that war was now inevitable, but expected it to be 


one of those localized Balkan conflicts a brushfire war, as we would say 

Localized war was, in fact, the official catchword in Berlin and Vienna. 
The sooner it came, the better, according to the experts. 

The bolder Austria became, and the more strongly she was supported, 
"the more likely Russia is to keep quiet," said Herr Gottlieb von Jagow, the 
German Secretary of State (Foreign Minister). 

On this theory, Bethmann-Hollweg a political lightweight a bare notch 
above Berchtold's level- Jagow, and the German General Staff kept trying 
to prod Austria into hostilities before anyone could intervene. The inter- 
vention which they probably feared the most was that of their master, the 
Kaiser, and they took care that the information of the developing interna- 
tional crisis which reached him on board the Hohenzottern was as little, 
and as late, as possible. (One more illustration of how fictitious the Kaiser's 
claim to supreme responsibility had become.) No direct German interests 
were involved in the dispute between Austria and Serbia. Berlin officialdom 
was trying to push Germany's Austrian allies into war for their own good, 
and to strengthen the alliance. The Habsburg Empire was visibly crumbling, 
the Wilhelmstrasse argued; only military victory over the forces of South 
Slav irredentism could save it. To achieve this result the risk of a general 
European conflict had to be accepted. 

In retrospect, the policy of the irresponsible German official camarilla 
seems criminal, and it was but criminal negligence or recklessness, rather 
than criminal premeditation. The limited-war clique reasoned that it would 
actually reduce the danger of European complications if Austria-Hungary 
confronted the world with a military fait accompli in Serbia. Russia would 
protest and France would growl, but with Germany making it plain to them 
that she was standing by her ally, they would back down again as they had 
done in 1909. If worse came to worst, England would remain neutral, 
while Italy, in accordance with her obligations under the Triple Alliance, 
and even neutral Rumania, would join the Central Powers. 

Events soon demonstrated that all the premises underlying the German 
limited-war policy were false. Austria could not forestall intervention by a 
bold fait accompli because she lacked the forces in readiness. General Con- 
rad maintained that he would not be able to start hostilities before August 
12, and wanted a formal declaration of war against Serbia to be held up 
until then (Berchtold and the Germans had naively dreamed of an Austrian 
blitz attack before mobilization was complete). Russia, through the mouth 
of her Foreign Minister, Sazonov, made a statement in St. Petersburg that 
sounded ominous by its very restraint: 

"Russia cannot allow Austria to crush Serbia and become the predomi- 
nant power in the Balkans." 


French opinion began to sound increasingly resolute, Rumanian opinion 
more neutral, Italian opinion more aloof. Worst of all, England, from July 
24 on began to show increasing concern over the situation a concern which 
the German Ambassador, Prince Lichnowsky, one of the few European 
diplomats to cut a good figure during the 1914 crisis, faithfully and speedily 
transmitted to Berlin. 

The Kaiser, himself, began to show agitation. Sudden and fully justi- 
fiedsuspicion of the Wilhelmstrasse caused him to cut short his cruise. A 
meandering report from the Chancellor full of understatements and omis- 
sions and concluding with the news that "the diplomatic situation is not 
quite clear" put him in a thundering bad temper on his return to the 
capital, July 27. 

This was probably the decisive day of the crisis. The text of the Serbian 
reply to Austria's ultimatum reached the Wilhelmstrasse which had not 
bothered to ask for it sooner about midafternoon, along with the first 
foreign reactions to it. Tie document caused dismay, as it had done in 
Vienna, where the Ballplatz official who had himself drafted the Austrian 
note termed it "the most brilliant example of diplomatic astuteness" in his 
experience. In reasonable and moderate terms the Serbians had accepted 
most of the Austrian demands, formulated some reservations on others 
and rejected only point six, which called for the participation of Austrian 
police in the investigations on Serbian territory. So much reasonableness 
might make too great an impression on the Kaiser; he must not see the 
Serbian note any sooner than could be helped. TTie Wilhelmstrasse ac- 
cordingly dawdled so long about getting the document already two days 
old to Potsdam that Wilhelm did not read it until the next morning a fate- 
ful delay. 

Another key development of the day took place in London. The British 
government had been slow to appreciate the gravity of the crisis. The 
Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey tall, taciturn, tight-lipped, a passion- 
ate trout fisherman addicted to rural solitude had taken a long time to 
perceive the terrible implications for England of the war clouds piling up 
over Europe. The carefully understated reports of his ambassadors on the 
Continent had not stirred him out of his native phlegm. He attached little 
importance to the hypocritical duckings of the Germans about the need 
for keeping the Russians in check. As for the French, whose pleas for more 
precise commitments had been a recurrent nuisance for nearly ten years 
their hysterical proddings were an affliction to be borne with equanimity 
like the weather. 

The threat suddenly called up by the rapture between Vienna and Bel- 
grade was something else. Hie British traditionally dislike tackling prob- 
lems before they have become urgent, but the urgency of the Balkan situa- 
tion could no longer be doubted. Action was called for if peace was to be 


saved, and Grey, more than any European statesmen then in power, really 
was attached to peace. It was not easy to act with a divided Cabinet and 
Parliament, with an uninformed public opinion, and with both allies and 
potential adversaries chronically addicted to misunderstanding Britain's at- 
titude. In the circumstances Grey took what he felt was the most vigorous 
possible action. He called in the German Ambassador, Prince Karl Lich- 
nowsky, spoke to him frankly about his worries, and made a formal plea 
that Germany use its good offices in Vienna to facilitate acceptance of the 
Serbian reply at least as a basis for further negotiation. The whole con- 
versation, backed by the announcement in the British press the same day 
that leave had been canceled in the British Navy the personal initiative of 
the First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill constituted the most explicit warn- 
ing yet given not to count on British neutrality. Prince Lichnowsky, like the 
alert and conscientious diplomat that he was, immediately grasped its im- 
port and relayed it to Berlin with the sense of urgency that the situation 
called for. 

Lichnowsky's dispatch reached the Wilhelmstrasse at about the same 
moment as a message from Vienna informing the German government 
that Austria would declare war on Serbia the next day, or at the latest on 
July 29, Thereupon Bethmann-Hollweg committed either an incredible 
blunder, or as Albertini and some other historians believe an act of almost 
equally incredible duplicity. Acting upon instructions from the Kaiser, he 
forwarded to Vienna Sir Edward Grey's suggestion about German good of- 
fices, but on his own initiative he omitted a key passage in the message he 
had received from the German Embassy in London which stressed the 
seriousness of the British warning, and he failed to indicate any official 
German endorsement of the suggestion; he merely asked for the Austrian 
views about it. He even allowed his colleague, Jagow, to call in the Austrian 
Ambassador, and in effect to advise him that the Austrians should pay no 
attention to any British suggestions that Berlin might feel obliged, for the 
sake of the record, to forward. (The Ambassador, of course, immediately 
transmitted the advice to Vienna.) 

The gravity of the German Chancellor's maneuver in sabotaging the 
British mediation proposal was underscored the next day when the Kaiser 
received simultaneously the report on his Ambassador's conversation with 
the British Foreign Secretary and the text of Serbia's reply to the Austrian 
ultimatum. Wilhelm often behaved irresponsibly, but he was neither a fool 
nor a lunatic. Far better than Bethmann-Hollweg or the Wilhelmstrasse, 
he grasped immediately the threat to the Austro-German daydream of a 
localized Balkan war implied by the awakening British concern over the 
situation. Unaware that for the past three days his Chancellor and Foreign 
Office had been doing their best to prod their Austrian ally into declaring 


war on Serbia without delay, Wilhelm set a new course for German policy 
in his comments on the Serbian note: 

"A brilliant achievement for a time-limit of only 48 hours! It is more 
than one could have expected!" A moral coup for Vienna, he thought, 
but now "all reason for war is gone and Giesl ought to have quietly stayed 
on in Belgrade! After that I should never have ordered mobilization." 

This was a complete change from the swashbuckling marginal notes, 
calling for the wiping out of the Serb bandits, with which Wilhelm had 
decorated the dispatches received on board the Hohenzollern. Bulow, 
who knew him well, writes of him: "Wilhelm n did not want war. He feared 
it. His bellicose marginal notes prove nothing . . ." 

It was too late to change course, however. The diplomatic incendiaries 
in the Wflhelmstrasse had made too good use of the Kaiser's absence, and 
their Viennese accomplice, Berchtold, had been playing the same game on 
his aged master. The day before July 27 he had purposely gone out of 
town to avoid seeing the Russian Ambassador, who had conciliatory pro- 
posals to make. 

"Count Berchtold," noted the German Ambassador, speaking as of a 
promising pupil, "is in excellent disposition and very proud of the great 
number of telegrams of congratulation received from every part of Ger- 

On the same fatal July 27, Berchtold had obtained Francis Joseph's sig- 
nature to a declaration of war against Serbia. To overcome the eighty-four- 
year-old Emperor's lingering doubts, he had sent a telegram to Bad Ischl 
reporting a completely fictitious Serbian attack upon an Austro-Hungarian 
border detachment (though whether the Austrian premier deliberately faked 
the incident to deceive his master has never been established) . Thus, on the 
morning of July 28, when Berchtold received the British Ambassador 
at about the same moment the Kaiser in Potsdam was coming to the con- 
clusion that war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was both unneces- 
sary and dangerous it was to tell hfrn that it was now unfortunately too late 
for any attempts at mediation, since His Royal and Imperial Apostolic Maj- 
esty had already signed the declaration of war. It was telegraphed to Bel- 
grade shortly before 1 P.M. the same day the first time in history that war 
was declared by wire. (After the Austrian Ambassador had left Belgrade, 
Berchtold was at a loss for a while as to how to serve the declaration of 
war. Berlin had refused to let the German legation transmit it on the 
ground that "it might awaken the impression in the public unfamiliar with 
diplomatic usage that we had hounded Austria-Hungary into war.") 

Vienna, the capital of frivolity and gemutlichkeit, foamed with patriotic 
hysteria when the official proclamation of the state of war, signed by the 
Emperor, appeared on the walls of the city. The whole town, an American 


observer noted, suddenly "went frantic with joy. Total strangers embraced 
each other . . . The nightmare of humiliation, of disdain gulped down 
like a nauseous drug for ages, was off their breasts." 

And yet, at the moment the declaration of war was laid in front of the 
Emperor for signature, the Austrian Army was not mobilized, and no mili- 
tary operations were contemplated for another two weeks. It is quite pos- 
sible that Berchtold still believed some last-minute miracle would keep war 
from actually breaking out. But what neither Berchtold nor the Wilhehn- 
strasse realized is that by formally proclaiming war, even in such a remote 
and unimportant corner of Europe, they were relinquishing control every- 
where to the military, whose heavy hand would soon wreak havoc with 
their diplomatic chess game. 

Although saber-rattling had for ten years been a major diplomatic tech- 
nique, the statesmen of 1914 were for the most part quite ignorant of what 
a mobilization involved. The Austrians, at war, but unable to move a single 
battalion against the enemy, were the first to find out. The Russians were 
the next to be swept to the point of no return by the rigidity of their army's 
mobilization plans. 

Like his fellow autocrats Wilhelm II and Francis Joseph, Nicholas n of 
Russia dreaded war. "Everything possible must be done to save peace," he 
told a member of his entourage just after he had received an alarming tele- 
gram from the Kaiser. "I will not become responsible for a monstrous 
slaughter." Unfortunately, though he was theoretically the most absolute 
of all the European despots, the Czar had no more real control over events 
than the others had. The reactionary, militarist, and fanatically Pan-Slav 
clique that Nicholas relied upon to save the autocracy included many in- 
fluential officers or officials who were bent on pushing Vnm into a ruinous 

"I foresee," he wired Cousin Willy in a futile appeal to him to restrain his 
Austrian ally, "that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure 
brought upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead 
to war." 

The pressure did in fact build up with terrifying speed. After the Aus- 
trian declaration of war on July 28, sheer muddle played an increasingly 
significant role in generating it. Too much was happening too fast in too 
many places. Consultation between allies, and co-ordination within na- 
tional governments, became more and more unsatisfactory as the stacks of 
urgent telegrams grew steadily higher and higher on the desks of Europe's 
statesmen. Old World bureaucracy was simply snowed under by the blizzard 
of information that descended upon it. The keenest and most orderly minds 
could no longer digest and assimilate the raw data that were being fed into 
them, and in every capital decision tended to lag behind event, so that 


each new move on anyone's part was likely to be a false move, adding to the 
general confusion. Nowhere were the fatal effects of this process more 
clearly illustrated than in St. Petersburg where the bureaucracy was dis- 
organized at the best of times, and where the cloudiest judgments and the 
weakest characters were generally to be found in high places. 

Even before the sheer velocity of events became intolerable, the Rus- 
sian Foreign Minister, Sazonov, a slight, shallow, conscientious man with 
a close-trimmed beard and a sharp foxlike face that made him look 
cleverer and more tricky than he was, had committed a momentous blunder. 
After the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia he obtained the agreement of the 
Cabinet and the approval of the Czar to the principle of a partial mobiliza- 
tion of Russian forces involving a little over 1,000,000 men along the 
Austrian border. This move, Sazonov argued, might scare the Austrians out 
of attacking Serbia, but would not threaten Germany, and in any case a 
soothing note to Berlin would accompany public announcement of the 

Orders to put the limited mobilization in effect throughout four southern 
districts were supposed to go out on July 29, the day after the Austro- 
Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia. The Russian General Stafi^ 
however, had developed second thoughts about partial mobilization. There 
was a serious risk, its chief told Sazonov, that such limited measures would 
throw out of kilter the cumbersome machinery of military administration 
and thus compromise eventual full-scale mobilization if the latter should 
become necessary. At this point, Sazonov, as a man of peace, should have 
withdrawn his original proposal and insisted on canceling any form of 
mobilization; the Czar would almost certainly have backed him. Instead, he 
suddenly veered around to the military viewpoint and joined the generals in 
urging the Czar to decree general mobilization at once. Nicholas at first 
consented, then at 9:30 on the evening of July 29, just as the official tele- 
grams transmitting the order of mobilization to all the military headquarters 
of the Empire were about to be sent, he dispatched an officer to the central 
telegraph bureau to stop them and to substitute the original order of partial 

Summarizing the historic, if somewhat incoherent, events of the day, 
Nicholas wrote in his diary for July 29: 

"During the day we played tennis. The weather was magnificent. But the 
day was singularly unpeacefuL I was constantly being called to the tele- 
phone . . . Apart from that I was in urgent telephonic communication with 
Wilhelm. In the evening I read, and received Tatishev [a Russian General 
attached to the Kaiser's personal staff as a kind of special military attach6] 
whom I am sending tomorrow to Berlin." 


Two days before, the Russian Minister of War, General Sukhomlinov, 
had recorded his impressions of an audience with the Czar in the following 

"To judge by the calmness, or more exactly the equanimity, with which 
the Czar listened to my report of current business, one might have come 
to the conclusion that there was nothing that might affect in any way the 
peaceful life of Russia. I was amazed at His Majesty's impassiveness and 
the slightness of his interest in what I had to say." 

There is no doubt that poor Nicholas had neither the character nor the in- 
tellect to cope with the terrible responsibilities that confronted him, but his 
aloofness and his preoccupation with the trivia of daily life during that 
critical last week of July 1914 preserved him from the hysteria to which 
most of his ministers and generals had succumbed. During the last days of 
peace "Nicky" and "Willy" were blamelessly employed exchanging tele- 
grams or telephone calls that had little bearing, for good or ill, on the ac- 
tions of their respective governments. And Nicholas at least, did make 
one last futile attempt to assert himself. Late on the night of July 29, 
after issuing his dramatic order to cancel general mobilization, the Czar 
again wired the Kaiser giving warning of the rising pressures that were about 
to overwhelm him and suggesting that the Austro-Serbian dispute be sub- 
mitted to the Hague Conference. The telegram was signed, "Your loving 

The proposal for arbitration by the Hague Tribunal had no chance of 
acceptance "Rubbish," Willy scrawled on the margin of the dispatch but 
at that particular moment in the European crisis any move that offered a 
hope of postponing the eventual showdown was important. The Czar's 
telegram came on the heels of a message from London which had rocked, 
not only the Kaiser, but even Bethmann-Hollweg and the Wilhelmstrasse. 
"So long as the conflict remains confined to Austria and Russia we can 
stand aside," Grey had told the German Ambassador. "But if Germany and 
France should be involved, then the British government would be forced 
to make up its mind quickly." If the Czax had stuck to his refusal not to 
let Russian mobilization go beyond the limited call-up in the south, peace 
might have been saved (although the Russian Generals had already begun 
surreptitiously to exceed the terms of the Imperial ukase). But between 3 
and 4 P.M. on July 30, just as Bethmann-Hollweg in Berlin was drafting 
new instructions to his Ambassador in Vienna advising him that Germany 
"must decline to be drawn wantonly into a world conflagration without 
having any regard paid to our counsels," Nicholas' vacillant will suddenly 

It was Sazonov who effected this fatal result. Accompanied by a staff 
officer, he came to the Peterhof Palace, some 17 miles out of the capital, to 


try to convince the Czar that general mobilization could no longer be de- 
layed. For more than an hour, in deferential but urgent tones, he marshaled 
his arguments in favor of mobilization. He had two particularly strong 
ones: a somewhat vague report that Germany, too, had begun to mobilize, 
and the arrogant tone of the Kaiser's ktest telegram declaring that he could 
not mediate in Vienna if Russia went ahead with the partial mobilization 
against Austria. 

Nicholas, however, appeared adamant Sitting behind big bronze- 
trimmed mahogany desk, littered with maps, in his office on the ground 
floor of the palace, overlooking the Gulf of Finland, he hardly seemed to 
hear what his Foreign Minister was saying. His bearded face, though pale 
and lined with fatigue, remained expressionless, and his dreamy eyes stayed 
fixed on the remote blue sea-horizon. 

"Think of the responsibility you are asking me to take if I follow your 
advice!" he finally exclaimed. "Think what it means to send thousands 
and thousands of men to their death." 

Unluckily, Sazonov's companion, General Tatishev, chose that moment 
to speak up. 

"Yes, it is a terrible decision to take," he said. 

c l am the one who decides," Nicholas snapped. 

From then on he seemed more attentive to Sazonov's arguments. He 
was particularly impressed by the Foreign Minister's view an erroneous 
one we now know that Germany was bent on war and would go ahead 
whether Russia mobilized or not At last, after what seemed a terrible inner 
struggle, the Czar gave in. 

"All right, Serge Dimitrievitch," he said, "telephone the Chief of the Gen- 
eral Staff that I give the order for general mobilization." 

Sazonov was inside the telephone cabin on the ground floor of the Pe- 
terhof as soon as etiquette permitted. "And now, General," he said, after 
passing on the glad news, "disconnect your telephone." 

The advice proved unnecessary. The Czar hastened to wire his cousin 
Willy, pledging that his troops would commit no provocative actions, and 
urging continued negotiations in the interest of the "universal peace dear 
to our hearts," but he issued no further counterorders. On the morning of 
July 31 "a grey day, in keeping with my mood," as Nicholas wrote in his 
diary the red mobilization posters went up on the walls of public buildings 
throughout the Russian Empire. 

Russia's mobilization triggered the irreversible chain reaction that va- 
porized the last hopes of the apprentice-sorcerers in the chanceries for 
achieving their diplomatic objectives by mere saber-rattling or through 
limited or localized" war. The statesmen kept assuring themselves-and 
each other that mobilization did not mean war, but the soldiers in every 


country knew they were wrong. Mobilization implied countermobilization, 
and when practiced on a Continental scale, in a Europe long since divided 
into two tensely hostile camps, the reciprocal but never exactly equal, inse- 
curities thereby generated would suffice in themselves to make an armed 
clash inevitable. Moreover it was the season for battle. All over Europe the 
cereal harvest was virtually finished armies in those days were almost as 
dependent upon bread as upon bullets and the silos or elevators were 
filled with a bumper crop. The military conscience, which quailed at the 
thought of tender green shoots being trampled down by booted feet what- 
ever might happen to the owners of the feet, or to the cities from which 
they had marched at last was tranquil. From the Urals to the Atlantic, the 
fields of stubble lay naked and tawny under the blazing sun, inviting the 
deployment of armies. War was possible; therefore it must be necessary. 

The first big power after Russia to order full mobilization was Austria- 
Hungary. The decree was signed on July 31, only a few hours after the 
posters started going up in Russia. The decision to mobilize had been taken 
the day before, despite a series of frantic appeals from Bethmann-Hollweg 
in Berlin to heed a new British proposal, already endorsed by Russia, for 
calling oflE the war against Serbia once the Austro-Hungarian armies had 
occupied Belgrade (which was virtually on the frontier). Any lingering 
doubts Berchtold may have had about title wisdom of the decision to mo- 
bilize were dispelled when the Chief of Stafi, General Conrad, rushed into 
the Ballplatz early on the morning of July 31 brandishing a telegram he 
had received during the night from his German colleague, Moltke, urging 
Austria to reject the British proposal and to mobilize at once against Russia. 

"How odd," mused the dapper little count 'Who runs the government 
in Berlin Bethmann or Moltke?" 

It was a naive question. In Russia, in Germany, and in Austria the gen- 
erals were now in the saddle. Their business was war, and war under the 
best conditions. All that was left for the diplomats was to put a good face 
on the brutal dictates of the military plans. 

The Kaiser himself had for all practical purposes tossed in his hand. The 
solemn warning from Grey on July 29 that had thrown the Wilhelmstrasse 
into panic, merely plunged Wilhelm n into rage and despair when he 
read it on the thirtieth. On the margin of the dispatch, opposite the para- 
graph voicing Grey's fear that if war broke out it would be "the greatest 
catastrophe the world has ever seen," the Kaiser scrawled, "That means they 
are going to attack us" Both Wilhehn and his Chancellor had based their 
truculent support, or incitement, of Austria on the childish assumption 
stemming from the former's mythological concept of the solidarity of 
monarchs, and fed by a recent, unguarded luncheon-table remark made by 
Britain's George V to the Kaiser's brother, Prince Henry of Prussia-that 
in case of a Continental war England would stand aside. Wflhelm's fury 


broke out in the long footnote he penned at the bottom of his Ambassa- 
dor's report: 

"England shows her hand at the moment when she thinks we are 
cornered, and in a manner of speaking, done for. The low-down shop- 
keeping knaves have been trying to take us in with banquets and speeches. 
The grossest deception is the King's message to me by Henry . * . England 
alone bears the responsibility for peace or war, not we now." 

Later in the day, Wilhelm dejectedly exclaimed to one of his intimates, "My 
work is at an end." 

Bethmann-Hollweg, who like Wilhelm, had unwittingly helped to light 
the fatal conflagration by his earlier blunders, made an even more pathetic 
confession of failure in a statement to the Prussian Council of Ministers on 
July 30. "All governments, including Russia's, and the great majority of 
their peoples are peacefully inclined," the Chancellor said, "but the direc- 
tion has been lost, and the stone has started rolling/* 

As Bethmann was speaking, the low bovine rumble of human herds 
surging back and forth in the Unter den Linden as they chanted Deutschland 
uber Alles, counterpointed his words* His remark was a surprisingly pro- 
found one to issue from such a shallow mind, but in one sense at least, it 
was not quite accurate. The men of peace had, in fact, lost control, but 
the men of war assumed it. Mob-hysteria itself was no longer a significant 
factor in the situation; it was merely a symptom of the lucid death-wish 
embodied in the war plans of the opposed general staffs. 

The inflexibility of Germany's contingency plans for a major diplomatic 
crisis reflecting a primitive version of the massive-retaliation doctrine- 
would have sufficed to kill the last chance for peace, if one had remained 
after Russia's mobilization. General Helmuth von Moltke, the mediocre 
nephew of the great Moltke, was actually a diffident neurotic, but his 
thought-processes were as typically Prussian as his bull-necked, pot-bellied 
body. Even if he had possessed the cool nerve necessary for brinkmanship, 
his staff planners had left him no room for maneuver on the brink. Ger- 
many, it now became clear, had no mobilization plan only a plan for war, 
and one that virtually assured immediate generalization of the conflict. 
It called for an attack on France through Belgium (whose neutrality 
Germany was pledged by solemn treaties to respect) in order to install the 
German Army on the coast of the English Channel. Accordingly, when 
confirmation of the Russian mobilization reached Berlin just before noon 
of July 31, Moltke after declaring a state of national emergency the last 
stage before general mobilization and martial law instructed the Wflhelm- 
strasse to set in motion the diplomatic machinery that would enable Ger- 
many, whose standing armies in the West were already poised, to strike 
without incurring the odium of unprovoked aggression. Two German ul- 


timatums were dispatched in the afternoon of July 31: one to Russia, en- 
joining her to halt all military measures against Austria-Hungary and 
against Germany within twelve hours, the other to France, demanding that 
she remain neutral in case of a Russo-German war. (The ultimatum to 
Belgium, demanding right of passage for the German armies, had already 
been sent to the German Minister in Brussels, though it was not to be de- 
livered until August 2.) Like the earlier Austrian note to Belgrade, they 
were formulated and timed in such a way that refusal would be certain, 
thus giving Germany a pretext for declaring war. So the juggernaut which 
was to devastate the face of Europe began to roll. 

On August 1, at 7 P.M. Count Friedrich von Pourtales, the German Am- 
bassador to Russia, red in the face and laboring under the nervous strain 
of a sleepless week, entered the office of Sazonov, whose amiable features 
were unusually taut. Rather brusquely the Germans asked whether the Rus- 
sian government was disposed to give a satisfactory answer to the ultimatum 
presented by Germany the day before and timed to run out at noon. Re- 
ceiving an evasive answer, he repeated his question, in a staccato voice. 
Once again Sazonov replied that the Russians could not demobilize, but 
that they were, as before, prepared to continue negotiations for a peaceful 
settlement. Both men were on their feet. The Count fumbled in his pocket 
and drew out the German declaration of war, which he read, breathing 
hard as he reached the final sentence: 

"His Majesty the Emperor, my august sovereign, accepts the challenge 
in the name of the Empire and considers himself at war with Russia." 

Then, losing all control of himself, he ran to the window which looked 
out over the Winter Palace reddened by the evening sun, and turning his 
back on Sazonov, burst into tears. Sazonov wordlessly patted his shoulder, 
whereupon Pourtales burst out, **Never did I tfifalr that I would have to 
leave St. Petersburg under such conditions." The two diplomats, who were 
also old friends, embraced each other, in the Russian style, for the last 

The Czar was less emotional about his rupture with Cousin Willy. Late 
that night, after drinking a glass of tea and chatting with the Czarina, who 
was already in bed, he decided to take a bath. He had just lowered him- 
self into the tub when a footman knocked on the door to inform him that 
there was an urgent personal telegram from his Majesty, the German Kaiser. 

"I read the telegram, I reread it, I repeated it out loud to myself, but still 
I did not understand," Nicholas subsequently related to the French Ambas- 
sador. "What, Wilhelm pretends that it is still in my power to avoid war? 
He implores me not to let my troops cross the border . . . Have I gone 
mad? Has not the Court Minister, my old Fredericks, brought me less than 
six hours ago the declaration of war handed to Sazonov by the German 


Ambassador? I returned to the Czarina's room and read her Wilhelm's tele- 
gram. She wanted to read it herself to believe it, and said, 6 You will not 
reply to it, will you?' <No indeed.' ... On leaving the Czarina's room I 
felt that all was finished for ever between Wilhelm and myself. I slept 

There were few other public figures in Europe who slept soundly that 
night. Probably Francis Joseph did, because he was old and tired, and ac- 
customed to disaster, and because he had done his duty as he saw it. Per- 
haps Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of the Archduke, slept in his cell, if he 
was not still in too much pain from the injuries inflicted on Wm by the 
crowd and by the police at the time of his arrest. His work was done. So 
was that of the mysterious chief he had never seen, Colonel Apis; of Apis* 
friend, the Russian military attache, Colonel Artamanov back on duty 
after a refreshing two-months' leave, of Izvolsky; of Izvolsky's fellow- 
plotter, Theophile Delcasse, the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

**I thought I saw the work of the little spider into whose web Germany 
was throwing herself," Abel Ferry, the French Undersecretary of State for 
Foreign Affairs, jotted down in his secret notebook after an interview with 
Delcasse on the eve of the German ultimatum. "Germany could no longer 
live in the world he [Ddcass6] had made for her . , . and for the first 
time I understood that no one since Bismarck had had such an influence on 
European events as this litfle man who never saw French ambassadors, dis- 
regarded parliament, and lived only in his work. He was no longer minister, 
but the net was up and Germany was bumbling into it like a fat fly." 

Most of the other crowned heads and statesmen and diplomats of Eu- 
rope, who had worked for war without realising it, stumbled through the 
last hours of peace in a kind of waking nightmare. In the night of July 31 
the French government decided to reject the German ultimatum, which had 
been delivered at 7 P.M., and to order general mobilization. While the min- 
isters, with President Poincarfi in the chair, were still deliberating around 
the big horseshoe table, covered with green baize, in the council chamber 
of the Elys6e Palace, the news reached them that Jean Jaures, the bushy- 
bearded leader of the French Socialists, mortal foe of the Franco-Russian 
alliance, and the last hope of European pacifists, had been shot dead by a 
nationalist fanatic. There were gasps of horror around the council table, 
followed by deathly silence. If the Socialist ideal had taken as deep root in 
the minds of European workingmen as Jaures and his friends liked to be- 
lieve, his martyr's death might have saved peace at the last minute. For a 
little while almost anything seemed possible. According to Abel Ferry, 
the Paris Prefect of Police threw the Council of Ministers into panic by 
calling up the Elysee to warn them that revolution would break out in the 
capital within three hours. 

It was a false alarm, however. Some workers did turn out into the streets, 


but the anti-war demonstrations were literally swallowed up by the vaster, 
more Dionysian frenzy of the patriotic mobs screaming and chanting on the 
boulevards. Scattered shouts of A bos la guerre turned into the many- 
throated roar of the Marseillaise, and finally into the strident mass-cry, 
A Berlin. Next day, August 1, when the little yellow mobilization posters 
with the crossed tricolor flags went up on walls throughout Francealmost 
at the same moment that general mobilization was proclaimed in Germany 
the workers and the peasants of France greased their boots and filled 
their packs with their usual shrug. Cheering crowds, chiefly made up of 
women waving flags and throwing flowers, rushed to the stations to see 
them off, and as the long trains pulled out for the East, the reservists 
jammed themselves into the open windows, like clusters of gesticulating 
ants, and waved and sang. 

Similar scenes were taking place at the time nearly everywhere in Eu- 
rope, except in the traditionally neutral countries, and in Italy, which de- 
spite its long-standing alliance with Germany and Austria had decided to 
turn neutral. 

In the Prussian capital the approach of war was greeted with a collective 
fervor not matched anywhere else. "The general feeling among the Ger- 
mans is that their years of preparation would now bear fruit," wrote the 
American Ambassador, James W. Gerard. 

Neither Bethmann-Hollweg nor the Kaiser shared the martial elation of 
their compatriots. 

"How did it all happen?" Bethmann's predecessor, Prince von Billow, 
asked the Chancellor a few days after the outbreak of war. 

"Ah, if only one knew/' Bethmann replied, throwing up his arms in 

"I have never seen a more tragic, more ravaged face than that of our 
Emperor during those days," recorded Admiral von Tirpitz. 

On August 1, the day of the French mobilization, to the accompaniment 
of a distant, ever swelling roar of acclamation from his subjects, Wilhelm 
n sat down in the Star Room of the Berlin Schloss at a desk made from 
the wood of Lord Nelson's flagship Victory to sign the order that would 
start his armies rolling toward the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Bel- 
giumwhose neutrality was still guaranteed by the solemn international 
treaty which Bethmann-Hollweg, in a famous conversation a few days 
later, dismissed as a "scrap of paper." When he got up, the Kaiser, sud- 
denly clairvoyant, as the doomed sometimes become, looked into the faces 
of his naval and military chiefs, standing respectfully around the desk. "Gen- 
tlemen," he said in a low, harsh voice. "You will live to regret this." 

Two days later, Lord Grey, standing with bowed shoulders at the window 
of his room in the Foreign Office, while dusk brought relief to the sweltering, 


exhausted city of London, had a similar chilling vision of night falling on 
a whole continent, on a whole social order and way of life. 

"The lamps are going out all over Europe," he said. "We shaH not see 
them lit again in our time." 

In reality, the lamps had started going out long before Grey or Wilhelm, 
or any contemporary, was aware of it. And the darkening of the Old World 
was to prove both more total and more cataclysmic than the most fear- 
ful, or the most lucid, imagined. 


The Failure of Arms 

>Y present-day standards, the First World War was a paro- 
chial and technologically rather low-grade struggle. Only 
the westerly jut of the Eurasian land mass was seriously involved, and 
topographically speaking, it was scarcely pitted. Yet because of what it did 
to Europe in the human sense and because of what Europe then meant to 
the world the 1914 war remains the greatest trauma in Western history 
since the Wars of Religion. The fears expressed shortly after its outbreak 
by U. S. President Woodrow Wilson that it would "set civilization back by 
two or three centuries," may have been excessive, but they have not proved 
wholly groundless. World War I killed fewer victims than World War n, 
destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions, 
but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map 
of Europe. The Old World never recovered from the shock. 

In part, the war's devastating impact was due to the vast, revolutionary 
upheavals that came in its wake. The dynastic empires of Central and 
Eastern Europe, whose moral and political decay had engendered the con- 
flict, were as we shall soon see its foremost victims, and their downfall 
could not fail to be momentous. This cause, however, was also an effect. 
The war was a cataclysm in its own rigftt However strange it may sound 
to the veterans of Omaha Beach, of Monte Cassino, and of Stalingrad or 
to the survivors of Hiroshima the trench warfare of 1914-1918 was per- 
haps the cnielest large-scale ordeal that the flesh and spirit of man have 
endured since the beginning of the Ice Age. 

The opening battles in France and on the eastern front the greatest 
shock of armies the world had seen up to then already gave some hint of 
the nightmare to come. They were heroic but murderous engagements. In 


East Prussia, where the Kaiser's armies were outnumbered three to one, 
German gunners laying their pieces wheel to wheel in the gaps between the 
marsh-ringed lakes and patchy, dark pine forests fired over open sights 
into the massed Cossack squadrons and still the Russian hordes came on. 
Among the wooded, flinty hills of German Lorraine, where the French 
Army rashly took the offensive, infantry in baggy red trousers sometimes 
led by young officers fresh from St. Cyr in white gloves and waving plumes 
fixed bayonets on their unwieldy Lebel rifles and charged into the teeth of 
concealed machine-gun batteries. To the north and west, in the tangled 
thickets of the Argonne, on the chalky, tilted plains of the Champagne, il- 
lumined with their ripening, lemon-colored vineyards, the French took their 
revenge, raking the feldgrau columns marching down from Belgium along 
the poplar-shaded roads with round after round of shrapnel from their 
fast, vicious little 75-mm fieldpieces. 

Moltke, who took supreme command of the German armies, stood on 
the defensive in East Prussia, warded off the French in Lorraine, and in 
accordance with a slightly modified version of the Schlieffen Plan, flung 
the bulk of his forces headlong through Belgium and Picardy around the 
French left flank, in a vast enveloping movement. His objective was the 
classic one of squeezing and crushing the main body of the enemy six 
French armies, together with the small but professional expeditionary force 
the British had rushed across the Channel deployed between Paris and the 
German border. He very nearly achieved it. A bare month after the out- 
break of war, German Uhlans, patrolling in advance of Moltke's leading 
column north of the capital, checked their horses and gazed in awe at the 
Eiffel Tower etched against the slaty blue sky of the Ile-de-France. 

Moltke had hoped to knock France out of the war within six weeks and 
then throw the whole combined weight of the German and Austrian armies 
against Russia. His own errors of judgment and failure of nerve he had 
weakened his striking force in the west to bolster the hard-pressed eastern 
front helped to cheat frfr of the victory that was in his grasp. Stolid as an 
ox and hardly more imaginative the French commander-in-chief, Gen- 
eral Joseph Joflre, retreated as best he could under the sledgehammer blows 
of the enemy, then sensing a slackening, lowered his head and butted back. 
The three-day French counterattack (September 6-9) on the Marne and 
along the Nancy-Verdun front, brilliantly improvised by Joffre's subordinate 
commanders, shivered the German offensive. A week earlier General Paul 
von Hindenburg, a wooden-faced, mineral-nerved Prussian called out of 
retirement to cope with the crisis on the eastern front, had similarly thrown 
back the Russians in the so-called Battle of Tannenberg. The Austrian 
invasion of Serbia, after initial successes ended in a humiliating fiasco. 
(Later in the war Serbia was entirely overrun by the Central Powers, and 


the remains of its army, following an epic retreat to the coast, had to be 
evacuated by the Allies.) 

By the time that winter closed down, with its pall of mud and fog in the 
west, its white shroud of blizzard in the east, the opposing armies were 
deadlocked from Switzerland to the North Sea, from the Baltic to the 
Carpathians. The fearful vigil had begun. 

Diplomacy-abetted more recklessly than ever by propaganda and con- 
spiracyvainly strove to tip the balance. New allies, enticed by secret trea- 
ties and secret subsidies, joined one camp or the other; new fronts were 
opened; peripheral stalemates prolonged the main one. Little Montenegro 
was in with Serbia almost from the start. Japan joined the Western Powers 
in August but contented herself with scooping up the German possessions 
on the China coast and in the Pacific. Turkey threw in with the Central 
Powers in November. Italy declared war on her former allies of the Triple 
Alliance in May 1915. Bulgaria lined up with Germany, Austria and Turkey 
in October of the same year; Rumania came in on the side of the Entente 
-in 1916. 

The decisive intervention was that of the United States, which declared 
war against Germany on April 6, 1917 mainly the consequence of Ger- 
many's desperate attempt to break the tightening stranglehold of the 
Entente's naval blockade by unrestricted submarine warfare. With Amer- 
ica in, a whole swarm of new belligerents mostly Platonic rallied to the 
Allied cause. Honduras July 1918 was the last. By that time the plane- 
tary coalition against the four Central Powers already totaled 27 nations, 
counting in Greece, Portugal, Brazil, China, San Marino, and such nominal 
partners as Liberia, Siam, and Bolivia. 

The sixteen active belligerents suffered total casualties in military per- 
sonnel alone-of 37,494,186, substantially more than half of the forces 
mobilized. More than 8,500,000 were killed or died from wounds or 
disease. In the French, British, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, 
Turkish, and Italian armies at least one man out of every ten mobilized 
died or was killed; the ratio of fatal casualties was, of course, very much 
higher than that among front-line units, particularly in the Russian and 
Austro-Hungarian armies. France and other advanced industrial countries 
with a low birthrate were demographically and psychologically debilitated 
for a generation by the hecatomb of vigorous young males, while the 
more backward nations suffered cruelly from the decimation of their edu- 
cated elites. 

During World War n except possibly in the Soviet and Japanese armies 
a unit's morale was presumed to be dangerously shaken when it lost 10 
per cent or more of its effectives in an attack. In World War I, battalions 
and even regiments after weeks under fire might lose three-fourths of 
theirs in the first hours of an offensive, and still be expected to keep on 


fighting. Because aerial bombardment was still in its infancy, service troops, 
like the civilian population, were less exposed in World War I than they 
were to be in World War n, but front-line service in a good combat divi- 
sion was more dangerous, as well as more harrowing. On the British sector 
of the Western Front between January 1915 and September 1918 it was 
generally reckoned that a private soldier in such a unit had only about five 
months of trench service in front of him, and that the wound which 
eventually put him out of action would be fatal in at least one case out of 
four. Life expectancy was higher on the German side, except during the 
great offensives, but it was considerably lower in the elite Russian and 
Austro-Hungarian units. 

The momentary ascendancy of the defensive over the offensive mainly 
due to the killing power of the machine gun, the mortar and the quick- 
firing fieldpiece had obliged the belligerents to dig in, and the longer the 
stalemate lasted, the more elaborate their defensive systems became. Along 
most of the front there stretched on each side two or three successive lines 
of deep trenches, connected by lateral passages, and strengthened with 
sandbagged parapets. Tangled thickets of barbed wire bristled in front of 
them; their walls were honeycombed with dugout shelters. The shell- 
cratered no man's land between the enemy lines was rarely more tha^i 500 
yards wide; most of the time it was between 100 and 200 yards, and in a 
few places barely the width of a normal city street, from curb to curb. Each 
command was loath to yield to the enemy so much as a foot of ground won 
at a terrible cost or fortified at great labor; on the contrary, bloody minor 
skirmishes were constantly fought to gain a few yards, or to occupy some 
insignificant feature, at the enemy's expense. In between such futile engage- 
ments the two armies observing the military proprieties and imagining 
they were keeping up front-line morale harassed the opposing trenches 
throughout the long days and nights with desultory fire. Thus developed 
the most horrible absurdity and the most absurd horror in the history of 
warfare: a pointless battle of mutual attrition, involving millions of com- 
batants and lasting, with occasional lulls but no break for some 1400 days. 

The trenches, recalls the British poet Robert Graves, were 'like air-raid 
shelters hastily dug in a muddy field, fenced by a tangle of rusty barbed wire, 
surrounded by enormous craters; subject not only to an incessant air-raid 
of varying intensity but to constant surprise attacks by professional killers, 
and without any protection against flooding in times of heavy rain." 

Life in these warrens of death, which men shared with their body-vermin 
and with hordes of fat, gray rats, attained, as Graves remarks, "the absolute 
zero of discomfort," and it was as sordid as it was miserable: "we fed like 
pigs, we stank like pigs." 

"Cold, dirt, discomfort are the ever-present conditions, and the soldier's 
life comes to mean for him simply a test of the most misery that the hu- 


man organism can support," reported the young American poet, Alan 
Seeger, who was soon (1916) to be killed in action. "It is ignoble, this 
style of warfare. We are not in fact leading the life of men at all, but that of 
animals living in holes in the ground and only showing our heads outside to 
fight and to feed." 

Seeger, the author of the once-famous bit of verse, / Have a Rendez- 
vous with Death, volunteered in the French Foreign Legion in 1914. Thou- 
sands of other young Americans who came over to France after 1917 with 
General Pershing's American Expeditionary Force faced their share of 
hardships and dangers, but few of them arrived in time to experience the 
full desolation of trench life as their French and British comrades knew it 
for more than three years during the stalemate phase of the conflict. 

Poison gas, widely used by both sides after the Germans tried it out near 
Ypres in 1915, was one of the nightmarish features of trench warfare. An- 
other was the difficulty in disposing of the dead when they fell in no man's 
land. Rotting bodies, or scraps of human flesh, lay in the shell craters be- 
tween the fences or in the wire entanglements for weeks or months, par- 
ticularly after a heavy engagement, poisoning the air with their stench. "Do 
you want to find your sweetheart?" ran the chorus of a popular British 
army song, <C I know where he is: Hanging on the front-line wire!" Un- 
doubtedly the harshest ordeal of trench warfare was the slowly building 
stress of anxiety in the minds and nervous systems of men who had to stand 
still under heavy fire for days or weeks at a time. Certain particularly active 
sectors of the Western Front received an average of one ton of steel and 
high explosive per square yard. During the Battle of Verdun, probably the 
most murderous in history, the French alone fired more than 12,000,000 
shells of all calibers between February 21 and June 16, 1916. Thirteen years 
after the end of the war when as a young correspondent in France I had 
occasion to visit the former battlefields there were still sizable areas, par- 
ticularly around Verdun and near Rheims, where the ground was cratered 
like a lunar landscape, and truncated hilltops with all their topsoil blasted 
off, standing stark and naked as if the splintered skeleton of the earth were 
showing through its wounds. Yet, I knew, parts of this man-made waste- 
land had for a while been as thickly populated as many a city street. The 
imagination went numb trying to picture how it must have felt to live 
through one of the synthetic cataclysms that produced such devastation. 
Sweating out a major bombardment in a front-line shelter was an apocalyp- 
tic experience; even the routine fire-fights which blazed up along a sector of 
the front from time to time could be a severe strain after one had lived 
through a certain number of them. 

"We came at an unhealthy moment," writes Douglas Read, a British 
journalist, reminiscing after the war about a conducted visit to the front he 
once made as a cadet "I shared a trench bay with a private of the Worces- 


tershires, an old soldier, steady, grizzled, resigned. Wrapped in a blanket I 
lay on the fire-step while heavy shelling rocked the trench, splashed dirt in 
my face, grazed my nose with a tiny fragment of metal. 

"The old soldier told me not to be afraid I was not, very much ... If 
you are young, in good health and have not been much bombarded, steadi- 
ness under fire is not difficult; but I admire those men, like my old soldier- 
companion, who know what a bombardment is and does and still remain 
masters of themselves. 

"In the next bay was a machine-gunner. He was at the end of his nerves 
and shivered as if with ague." 

". . . we became jittery after six months," says Robert Graves, "morose 
and unreliable after a year, a dead loss after eighteen months. In World 
War n the deterioration would have been early diagnosed as 'combat fa- 
tigue' and the sufferer rushed to a base hospital for treatment In World 
War I nothing like this happened . . . Before being diagnosed as a 'shell- 
shock' case [the soldier] had to be either paralyzed or maniacal." 

The endless strain and the physical misery of trench life often caused the 
infantrymen of World War I to look forward to clambering over their 
parapets and rushing across no man's land through the deadly hiss of 
machine-gun bullets and the tight curtain of flying metal from the enemy's 
artillery barrage. It seemed worth running the infernal gauntlet and grap- 
pling hand to hand with death in the enemy lines if there was a chance that 
the attack would achieve the decisive breakthrough that meant final re- 
lease, if not from war, at least from the nightmare of war in the trenches. 
Again and again the hope seemed on the point of being realized for one 
side or the other-at Verdun, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Austrian Galicia, 
in the Champagne, along the Isonzo, the Somme and the Yser and each 
time up to the spring of 1918, the offensive petered out in mud and blood. 
The epitome of all these futile massacres was probably the four-months' 
British campaign in Flanders during the summer and autumn of 1917, 
sometimes known as "Passchendaele," after its terminal battle near the 
village of that name, which cost the attacking side some 400,000 casualties 
and achieved no results of even momentary importance. The British attack 
literally bogged down, almost from the first; the artillery preparation, con- 
sidered necessary for ripping up the enemy's wire and for smashing his 
forward machine-gun positions, had also destroyed the drainage system of 
the Yser flats, and thereby converted the battlefield into a marsh. On the 
rare occasions when an attacking army punched a real hole in the enemy's 
frontas the Russians twice succeeded in doing to that of the Austrians 
the difficulty of moving the immense quantities of artillery and ammunition 
needed across the mire and shell craters of the original battlefield soon 
slowed down the momentum of the offensive, giving the defense time to 
plug the gap with new trench systems. 


The frustration, the horror, and the despair generated by war on such a 
scale and under such conditions gradually spread from the battlefields, 
darkening the whole mind of the twentieth-century West, somewhat as the 
Thirty Years* War darkened that of the Baroque Age. War was not yet 
total Coventry, Hamburg, Lidice, Buchenwald, and Hiroshima were still 
in the futurebut the need for mobilizing every energy at home, for cowing 
underground resistance by the civilian population in occupied territory, for 
stimulating or combating treason and subversion, gave it a ruthlessness 
Europe had not known for nearly three centuries. Such officialized atroci- 
ties as the cynical German violation of Belgian neutrality, the execution of 
civilian hostages by the Germans in Belgium and occupied France, the 
systematic attacks by German submarines on unarmed passenger ships far 
from the battle zone, and the maintenance of the Allied blockade after the 
starving German and Austrian people had laid down their arms, were 
ominous symptoms of an accelerating retreat from civilization. 

In the beginning, when it had been generally assumed that the war would 
be over in a few weeks, patriotic enthusiasm had been widespread every- 
where in the belligerent countries. All that was best and worst in the Old 
World shared in the orgy of mass emotion. 

"I am not ashamed to acknowledge today," Adolf Hitler wrote, "that I 
was carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment [the outbreak of war] 
and that I sank down upon my knees and thanked Heaven out of the full- 
ness of my heart for the favor of having been permitted to live in such a 

The same berserker frenzy seized Charles Peguy, the most luminous of 
modern French poets, and flung him to his death on the battlefield of the 
Marne. Here is how one of the survivors of the infantry platoon that the 
warrior-poet led relates the scene: 

tf Bent over double to offer a smaller target, stumbling among the beetroot 
stalks and the lumps of earth, we rush to the attack. 

"'Hit the dirt,' P6guy shouts, 'and fire at will.' But he remains standing 
. . . directing our fire ... Down,' we shout, but the glorious madman, 
insane with courage, is still on his feet . . . 'Shoot, God-damn it, shoot,* we 
hear the lieutenant yelling ... At the same instant, a deadly bullet shat- 
ters the noble forehead. . . ," 

Alan Seeger was hardly less ecstatic over his first taste of war. 

"I go into action with the lightest of light hearts/' he wrote his mother 
from the front, early in October 1914 ... I thinV you can count on seeing 
me at Fairlea next summer, for I shall certainly return after the war to see 
you all and recuperate. I am happy and full of excitement over the wonder- 
ful days ahead." 

Even so civilized and sensitive a spirit as Edith Wharton, the American 


novelist then living in France, at first found the great holocaust a purifying 

"Looked back on from these sterner months," she wrote, "those early 
days in Paris . . . the sudden flaming up of national life, the abeyance of 
every small and mean preoccupation, cleared the moral air as the streets 
had been cleared, and made the spectator feel as though he were reading 
a great poem on war rather than facing its realities." 

As the war dragged on and the casualty lists grew ever longer and priva- 
tions increased, the mood changed. In 1915 a Russian author named 
Gregory Alexinsky, reporting for a French publisher on his country's role 
in the conflict, coined a new word to describe a certain trend that was be- 
ginning to develop in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The term, which shocked 
contemporary grammarians but quickly found its way into the journalistic 
vernacular in several tongues, was "defeatism." As an organized and 
systematic movement, defeatism was at first largely confined to Russia and 
Austria-Hungary, but in all the belligerent countries the concept of the war 
as a meaningful and purposeful struggle for the achievement of heroic 
goals gradually gave way to the view that it was a kind of impersonal natu- 
ral catastrophe, or as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it, a "dreary 
muddle of trumped-up human doom." The British common soldier re- 
mained a hero to the end as did the French and the German one but he 
grimly thought of himself as a mere ingredient for the "sausage machine" at 
the front, so-called, Graves explains, because "it was fed with live men, 
churned out corpses, and remained firmly screwed in place." 

Resentment of the "slackers" and "profiteers" behind the lines increas- 
ingly embittered the outlook of the front-line soldier; his faith both in the 
civilian leadership that had been unable to avert the catastrophe of general 
war, and in the military leadership which seemed incapable of winning it, 
turned into doubt, then into cynical revolt or despair. The myth of the 
bungling or heartless "brass hat," ruthlessly throwing away the lives of his 
men, was born. It was to reach full flower after the war in books and plays 
like Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell 
to Arms, Erich Maria Remarque's Att Quiet on the Western Front, Lau- 
rence Stallings and Maxwell Anderson's What Price Glory? and Louis- 
Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, perhaps the absolute 
zero in literary nihilism. 

Unlike many myths, that of the brass hat as a cheerful mass murderer 
had a solid foundation in fact. Some generals were more incompetent or 
more inhuman than others the Germans were the least inefficient and usu- 
ally the least wasteful of their men's lives but the whole military caste in 
pre-1914 Europe, like its diplomatic and ruling castes, was neither tech- 
nically nor emotionally equipped to face the challenge of modem war. It 


always takes men a long time to adjust to new conditions, and nothing like 
World War I had ever been seen, or even imagined before. (By the out- 
break of World War II military leadership in most countries had caught up 
with the times, or at worst was only one war behind, instead of two or three, 
as in 1914.) The consistent failure of the staff-officer mind in World War I 
to absorb either the tactical or the psychological lessons of trench warfare 
is attested by crowds of reliable contemporary witnesses, at every level. 

"Most of them [the brass-hats] seemed capable of limitless folly," 
Graves comments. ". . . One I knew ordered gas to be discharged from 
our trenches 'at all costs* though the wind was blowing in our faces . . . 
None ever tried a short spell of trench life himself to discover in what con- 
ditions his troops lived . . ." 

Conditions were no better in the French Army. 

"In the army the ravages caused by the failure of the April 16 offensive 
were frightful," reported Abel Ferry, the young French minister who had 
abandoned his office in the Quai d'Orsay for the trenches. He was referring 
to General Nivelle's disastrous Champagne offensive of 1917. "Spontane- 
ously, whole regiments and divisions revolted," he continues. "The inci- 
dental causes of this state of mind were numerous: Excessive drinking, 
sometimes poor food, bad behind-the-lines quarters, inadequate rest and 
finally the failure of the offensive. Alas, this is the price of our military 
policy of the last three years 2,000,000 casualties. The life of the French 
soldier has been protected neither against his chiefs, who have managed it 
abusively, nor against his allies, who have asked too much. He knows it, 
and he is revolting . . . We are headed towards peace by revolution. . . . 
All the nations, belligerent or not, are approaching the stage of revolution, 
with the peoples threatening to make peace against their governments." 

Ferry, who was killed by a German shell in 1918, turned out to be al- 
most right as far as France was concerned. Several mutinous divisions from 
the Champagne front, singing the Socialist anthem, L'Internationale, 
started to march on the capital and were only turned back in the nick of 
time. To restore discipline in the demoralized French Army drumhead 
courts-martial handed down 253 death sentences sometimes virtually at 
random though it is claimed that only 25 of them were actually carried 
out. Elsewhere in Europe the tide of revolutionary defeatism steadily 
mounted, as Ferry had predicted. 

The loss of faith in leadership, including military leadership, on the part 
of the European masses was one of the most significant results of World 
War L Its full effects were not to become apparent for another generation 
the debased form of pacifism which paralyzed French and British resistance 
to the aggressive expansionism of Nazi Germany in 1938, and partially 
paralyzed it in 1939, was an emotional hangover from the 1914-1918 war 
but even its immediate fruits were momentous. Naturally, it was the most 


anachronistic leadership-systems i.e. the Divine Right autocratic dynasties 
and their supporting aristocracies which were the most vulnerable to the 
blasts of doubt and revolt blowing from the battlefields. A few reigning 
monarchs in particular young King Alexander I of Serbia, and Albert I, 
King of the Belgians saved the prestige of their dynasties by the way in 
which they shared the hardships of their subjects, but the Habsburgs, the 
Hohenzollerns, and the Romanovs, along with other handicaps, lacked the 
common touch. 

From the outbreak of war the autocrats had been obliged to surrender 
most of their power to the generals who nominally functioned as their 
advisers. The transfer of real authority was most nearly total in Austria- 
Hungary. "I can't do anything for you," the aged Francis Joseph is supposed 
apocryphally to have told a petitioner. < Don*t you know a sergeant with 

The Kaiser took the field in his capacity as Supreme War Lord shortly 
after the opening of hostilities, but this consisted merely of moving to GHQ 
at Charleville, a safe distance behind the front, where he shared the hard- 
ships of his troops by cutting his lunches down to four courses and drinking 
beer instead of champagne. He almost never showed himself in the 
trenches, but perhaps this was just as well from the viewpoint of morale; 
with his completely whitened hair, deeply lined face and conspicuous lame 
arm, Wilhelm, after August 1914, bore little resemblance to the martial 
figure that had so long ruled victoriously over the imagination of his sub- 
jects. He made no serious attempt to guide the strategy of the war, and for 
the most part contented himself with listening meekly to the briefings of his 
generals. After 1916 the Kaiser was a mere figurehead; the real dictator, 
not only in military but in civilian affairs, was General eventually Field 
Marshal Erich Ludendorff, the politically illiterate apostle of rule by the 
sword, who as First Quarter Master General of the armies completely domi- 
nated his nominal superior, the new Commander-in-Chief , General von 

The official camera portraits of Ludendorff at the peak of his extraor- 
dinary career are prime fossil specimens of European history* Brutal and 
blubbery, he looks almost literally bloated with self-awe. The features are 
unmistakably plebeian Ludendorff was one of the few Prussian staff offi- 
cers of lower middle-class origin-but without any redeeming touch of 
homely humanity. In the cold, hooded eyes, the gross pompous jowls, the 
overfed old woman's chin and the mouth like a cuttlefish's, we can rec- 
ognize a kind of transitional form between the men of blood and iron who 
created the German Empire and the "flabby monsters" (in the words of 
Georges Bernanos) who finally destroyed it Ludendorff, who was forty- 
nine at the outbreak of war counts among the foremost wreckers of 
European civilization in his generation. Before he collapsed into his 


Wotan-worshiping senility, during the 1930s, he was to play a substantial 
role in pushing the Hohenzollern dynasty to its doom, in launching the 
Nazi nightmare on the world, and in assuring the ultimate triumph of 
Bolshevism in Russia. It was the war, of course, that gave him his chance- 
he planned the brilliant German attack on the fortress of Liege and was 
Hindenburg's Chief of Staff at Tannenberg but his meteoric rise to a posi- 
tion of almost unbounded if irresponsible power is a devastating commen- 
tary on Wilhelmine society, on the limitations of the German military caste 
and on the deficiencies of the Hohenzollern family. 

The Kaiser's sons, and several of the minor German princes, held active 
wartime commands, but this turned out to be a liability rather than an 
asset to their dynasties. The martial career of the Crown Prince was par- 
ticularly disastrous, though it had begun with a hopeful little piece of make- 
believe. At the outset of the war the Hohenzollern heir had been put in 
nominal command of the German Fifth Army, on the Lorraine front. Its 
initial successes earned him the award by the Kaiser of the Iron Cross, 
First and Second Class. "I rejoice with you in Wilhelm's first victory," 
Wilhelm Sr. wired the Kaiserin, "How splendidly God stood by his side." 
Some eighteen months later the Celestial Ally defected. The Crown Prince 
was theoretically in command of the German armies attempting to take 
Verdun and although he had criticized with unusual shrewdness the plans 
for the offensive drawn up by his Chief of Staff he had been obliged to 
countersign them, and was thus left saddled with supreme responsibility for 
the costliest failure of German arms. 

'Weeks and months of slow, hard-fought offensive battles, claiming 
heavy sacrifices," the Crown Prince wrote after the war, "had followed 
the February assault, which was boldly executed, with every confidence in 
its success; then came the halting of the offensive, the result of the progres- 
sive dissociation of our forces; and now . . . two unexpected set-backs had 
wrested away a large part of this battlefield soaked with our blood. For 
the first time I realized what it was like to lose a battle. Self doubt, self- 
reproach, bitter feelings, unfair judgments of others, struggled in my heart 
and weighed heavily on my mind ... it was a long time before I regained 
my composure and recovered my faith." 

The German Army and the German people never wholly recovered 
theirs and it was not only faith in ultimate victory that was lost, but faith 
in the social system and in the dynasty that had led them into massacres like 

As for the Russian people and Army which by 1917 had already lost 
nearly 9,000,000 men, killed, wounded, or taken prisoner-the real prob- 
lem is not to explain why they finally revolted or why the revolution took 
such a catastrophic turn, but why it was so long in coming. 


The Suicide of the Russian Monarchy 


[OST of the belligerent nations had staggered off to war in 
a fog of patriotic inebriation; Czarist Russia dedicated 
itself to Armageddon with ritual solemnity. The ceremony, which took 
place in the afternoon of August 2, was both grandiose and moving, per- 
haps the most poignant moment in modern Russian history- For once the 
official actors were worthy of their tragic theme. So was the setting: the 
imperial heart of St. Petersburg, then at the zenith of its splendor but 
already marked with the fey, twilight beauty of the self-doomed. "The 
city . . ." writes George R Kennan, one of the latest in a long series of 
Western visitors to fall under its watery spell, "is one of the strangest, 
loveliest, most terrible, and most dramatic of the world's great urban cen- 
tres . . . The heaven is vast, the skyline remote and extended. . . . Under 
such a sky, fingers of fate seem to reach in from a great distance, like the 
beams of the sun, to find and shape the lives and affairs of individuals; 
events have a tendency to move with dramatic precision to denouements 
which no one devised but which everyone recognizes after the fact as in- 
evitable and somehow faintly familiar/' 

The denouements still lie ahead; the scene enacted that August after- 
noon of 1914 in and around the ponderous Winter Palace serves as a kind 
of dramatic antithesis in the unfolding of the grim, foreordered plot It 
has been reported by a Western eyewitness who was well qualified to ap- 
preciate both its color and its pathos. 

To the French Ambassador, Maurice Paleologue, the stage setting was 
majestic. "In the immense St Georges Gallery which overlooks the Neva 
embankment, 5000 or 6000 persons are assembled. The whole Court is in 
gala costume; all the officers of fhe garrison are in field uniform." An altar 


stood in the center "and the miraculous icon of the Virgin of Kazan, re- 
moved for a few hours from the national sanctuary on the Nevski Prospect, 
has been transported there ... In religious silence, the Imperial cortege 
traverses the gallery and takes position on the left of the altar." 

The holy office began, and with it "the moving and ample chants of the 
Orthodox liturgy. Nicholas II prays with an ardent concentration that 
gives Ms pale features a strikingly mystic expression. The Empress Alex- 
andra Feodorovna stands close beside him, holding herself stiffly, her head 
high, her lips livid, her gaze fixed and her eyes glassy; from time to time 
she shuts her eye-lids and then her ashen visage reminds one of a death- 

After this, the chaplain read a manifesto from the Czar. ", . . Then 
the Emperor approaches the altar and raises his right hand toward the 
Bible which is presented to him. ... In slow, short tones, stressing each 
word, he proclaims, 'Officers of my Guard here present, I salute in you the 
whole army, and I bless it Solemnly I swear that I shall not conclude peace 
so long as a single enemy remains on the soil of the fatherland.* " 

This was word for word the oath that Czar Alexander I swore in 1812, 
when Napoleon invaded Russia. After pronouncing it before the brilliantly 
and frantically cheering throng of courtiers in the St. Georges Gallery, the 
Czar stepped out on the balcony overlooking the great square of the Winter 
Palace, where on that other Sunday the Bloody Sunday of 1905 his sol- 
diers had mowed down the ranks of unarmed demonstrators. This time, 
too, the crowd filled the square the third largest in Europe waving flags, 
banners, icons and portraits of the Czar, but this time sovereign and sub- 
jects shared the same solemn exaltation. As the Czar repeated his ances- 
tor's historic oath, the crowd dropped to its knees and sang the Imperial 
anthem, God Save the Czar, followed by the lovely hymn, Lord, Save the 
People and Bless Thine Inheritance, invoking the divine protection in time 
of war. 

"In this minute," comments Paleologue, "for these thousands of men who 
are prostrate there, the Czar is truly the autocrat consecrated by God, the 
military, political and religious chief of his people, the absolute sovereign 
of bodies and souls." 

The almost incredible demonstration of patriotic fervor and dynastic 
loyalism witnessed by Paleologue and other Western observers in St. Pe- 
tersburg was not an isolated phenomenon. It was typical of the mood in 
which the whole Russian people went to war. (One of its minor manifesta- 
tions was changing the name of the capital to Petrograd a pure Slavic 
word with no German taint.) Not only was there a deep surge of national 
feeling, uniting all classes and all but a few extremist opinion groups, but 
there was an unmistakable reconciliation between the Romanov dynasty 
and the Russian masses. For a while it seemed almost as if the memory of 


1905 had been magically erased from the Russian mind, and that the doom 
pronounced upon the autocracy by its own victory over the revolutionists 
had been rescinded. History appeared to be offering Nicholas n the rarest 
of its benefactions: a second chance. 

It was all the more remarkable because ever since the murder of 
Stolypin in 1911, the Czar's regime had been sinking deeper and deeper 
into the mire of reaction, and popular discontent had accordingly been 
rising. The prosperity of the middle classes, due to Russia's industrial 
boom, and the emergence of a class of peasant landowners, thanks to 
Stolypin's agrarian legislation, had somewhat cushioned the violence of the 
opposition forces, but the temper of the factory workers was turning rev- 
olutionary again as the chastening remembrance of the repression after 
1905 gradually faded. In the last years before the war the curve of strikes 
and social disorder had been steadily mounting; another year of peace 
might have brought new upheavals. 

Sarajevo completely transformed the social and political climate. To the 
chauvinists in the bourgeoisie not to mention those entrenched in the army 
or the administration the war was a chance to wipe out the national hu- 
miliation suffered hi the Russo-Japanese conflict and to achieve Russia's 
millennial goal control of the Dardanelles. To the Orthodox traditionalists 
and the Pan-Slav idealists it was a crusade to liberate the Slavic brothers in 
the Balkans. To the liberals it was a just war at the side of enlightened 
allies France and England whose example would inspire deep reforms in 
Russia after the common victory. To many of the left-wing revolutionaries 
except, of course, the Bolsheviks it was an ideologically progressive war 
that would sweep away German militarism as a potential ally of Russian 
autocracy, and win new privileges for the armed workers and peasants. 

Both in the autocracy and in the nation as a whole, war brought to light 
treasures of loyalty, of heroism, and of social co-operation that had lain 
hidden for years under the corruption and barbarism of the decaying des- 
potism, Nicholas himself was transformed in many ways. Alexandra took 
a course in nursing and threw herself into an orgy of war-work. Unfortu- 
nately, if war galvanized all the latent strength in Czarist Russia, it also 
exacerbated the weaknesses of the regime. Raw idealism had never been 
wholly wanting in Russia even when overlaid by bureaucratic cynicism; 
it was lucid dedication that was in short supply. Both the Russian Czar 
and the Russian liberals were eventually undone as much by their virtues 
as by their vices. Neither conservatives nor reformers in Russia were in- 
tellectually equipped to face the ordeal of modern war. 

"Let Papa Nicholas not plan war," Gregory Rasputin for once the 
guardian angel instead of the evil genius of the monarchy had telegraphed 
from Siberia to the Czarina's confidante, Anna Vyrubova when he learned 


of the crisis, ** or with war will come the end of Russia and yourselves and 
you will lose to the last man." 

It was only gradually that the fatal weaknesses of Czarist Russia came to 
light under the strains of the conflict. At first it seemed that the Russian 
Army had put to good use the lessons of its defeat by Japan ten years 
earlier. It was still short on heavy artillery and machine gunsas aU the 
other belligerents werebut its infantry masses were adequately trained 
and they were led into battle by tough, professionally competent, almost 
extravagantly courageous officers. What surprised foreign military observ- 
ers the most was the good relations that seemed to exist in the early days 
of the war between the muzhiks who comprised the bulk of the Russian 
forces and the young scions of the overprivileged Czarist aristocracy who 
commanded them. In the line regiments at least the staffs were less admira- 
blethe officers had ceased to be playboys in uniform that they had some- 
times been in the past. Despite the anachronistic discipline and etiquette of 
the Russian Army, the officers understood their men and were respected 
by them. 

Both the virtues and the faults of the Russian military caste in 1914 
were exemplified in the army's Commander-in-Chief , Grand Duke Nicho- 
las, the Czar's uncle. The Grand Duke, a tall, broad-shouldered man with 
a frank, energetic expression, probably was not the "really great soldier and 
strategist" that his adversary, Ludendorff, credited him with being, but he 
was a professional who had mastered the fundamentals of his trade. He 
had a gift for leadership, a soldierly sense of duty, and great moral, as well 
as physical, courage* He was undoubtedly somewhat old-fashioned in his 
tactical conceptions, he considered that supply and logistics were something 
you turned over to the quartermaster general and forgot about, and he was 
almost illiterate in politics, economics, and administration. Above all, like 
many Russians of his generation, he was a fervent idealist who constantly 
tended to confuse aspiration and reality. Paleologue, who in accordance 
with instructions from Paris called on the Russian Commander-in-Chief a 
few days after the outbreak of war to plead for an immediate offensive on 
the eastern front, was almost disconcerted by the quasi-mystical enthusi- 
asm with which the Grand Duke responded. 

He told the startled diplomat that God and Joan of Arc were with them. 
"Victory will be ours. Is it not providential that war broke out for such a 
noble cause? . . " He would order an offensive and strike with every- 
thing he had. "I may not even wait for all my corps to be assembled. As 
soon as I feel strong enough I shall attack." 

Neither the Grand Duke nor the Czar ever rejected or evaded an appeal 
from Russia's allies to sacrifice Russian lives in order to relieve the pres- 
sure from the German armies in the West, and the diversionary offensives 
ordered from on high were usually executed with vigor if not always with 


great skill by the Russian corps commanders, sometimes under suicidal 
conditions. A particularly gruesome example was the Russian drive of 1916 
in the Baltic sector around Lake Naroch, east of Vilna. Despite adverse 
weather conditions, it was ordered by the Czar, Paleologue explains, "to 
satisfy the public conscience," which had been quickened by the heroic 
French defense of Verdun, After a sketchy artillery preparation, the Russian 
infantry attacked, and disregarding unusually heavy losses, reached all its 
initial objectives. A sudden thaw transformed the battlefield into a morass; 
the Russian field guns bogged down, depriving the infantry of artillery sup- 
port, and the field kitchens could not be moved forward with the advancing 
troops. Soaked to the skin, without food, almost without ammunition, the 
Russian infantry doggedly struggled ahead under heavy fire through the 
knee-deep mire; the wounded frequently smothered in it where they fell. 
Then an icy wind started blowing from the Arctic, and a hard freeze set in. 
The wounded men who managed to escape drowning in the mud and slush 
were caught in the ice and froze to death before they could be evacuated; 
the rare survivors suffered horribly from frost-bite. Virtually aH the ground 
originally gained by the Russians had been yielded up again by the end of 
April when the fighting slacked off. From the allied viewpoint the five 
weeks* Russian offensive proved moderately useful; it drew several German 
divisions away from the Verdun front. The cost to the Russian Army was 
250,000 dead, missing and wounded. The public conscience in Russia could 
rest easy. 

In the history of coalition warfare few nations have displayed the loyalty 
toward their allies that Russia consistently manifested between August 1914 
and October 1917. And few have in turn been so mercilessly exploited by 
their allies. The Russians, poor in heavy weapons, rich in manpower, had to 
use human flesh where the other main belligerents, especially the Germans, 
relied on steel and high explosives. Russia lacked the railroads and the in- 
dustrial base needed to sustain prolonged, large-scale offensive operations. 
The Russian forces, unit for unit, were generally a match for their Austro- 
Hungarian enemies, but they were substantially below the German standard 
in organization, training and staffwork, as well as in equipment. Yet the 
Western members of the Entente, especially the French, were constantly 
prodding the Russians to take the offensive whether they were in shape to 
do so or not and to attack their toughest enemy, along the most difficult 
sectors of their front The exorbitant demands of the West on the Russian 
Army were a major factor perhaps the major factor in creating the con- 
ditions that finally produced the revolution. They would not, of course, 
have proved so fatal if the Czarist military mind with its curious mixture of 
chivalry, cavalryman's dash, and humility had not been peculiarly vulnera- 
ble to such pressures. Russia in 1914 was an underdeveloped country, and 
there is a definite trace of colonial awe, almost of a hunger for immolation 


Trotsky sneeringjy termed it the comprador mentality in the attitude of 
many Russians toward their more "advanced" Western allies; it was to 
express itself most disastrously under the Kerensky regime. 

"We owed this sacrifice to France," the Foreign Minister, Sazonov, said 
to Paleologue after the battle of Tannenberg the result of the Grand Duke's 
pledge to take the offensive without delay in East Prussiawhich cost Russia 
110,000 men. 

In addition to being afflicted with Quixotic commanders and short- 
sightedor simply desperate allies, the Russian Army suffered from several 
handicaps that exposed it to abnormally heavy losses. Its weaknesses in 
staff work and in equipment have already been mentioned. Their effects 
were monstrously aggravated by other factors. One was German espionage. 
The charges made after the February Revolution that Germany had agents 
in the Imperial entourage and in the administration at the ministerial level 
have never been fully confirmed but there is no doubt that a vast and ef- 
ficient spy network, based chiefly on German commercial penetration, had 
been built up in Russia before the outbreak of war. The military informa- 
tion it supplied was often of great importance; it may have been a decisive 
element in the Russian defeat at Tannenberg. 

An even graver Russian weakness was the red tape, inefficiency and cor- 
ruption prevailing in certain vital sectors of the Czarist bureaucracy which 
deprived the front of the munitions that Russian industry was potentially 
capable of delivering. It was bad enough to be short of heavy artillery and 
machine guns; all too often corps commanders found themselves obliged 
to oppose an enemy attack or even to take the offensive without shells 
for their light fieldpieces or cartridges for the rifles of their infantry. At 
times there were not enough rifles to go around; the Russian units had been 
known to go into battle when two men out of three were armed with noth- 
ing better than a bayonet tied to a stick. The Minister of War, General 
Vladimir Sukhomlinov, a member of the Rasputin clique, was fired in the 
summer of 1915 for allowing such conditions to develop later he was even 
condemned to prison and thereafter the munitions situation improved 
somewhat, but it was too late. The Russian Army had suffered nearly 
4,000,000 casualties in the first year of the war. (Russia's total casualties 
for the war were more than 9,000,00076.3 per cent of the men mobilized. ) 

**You know, sir, we have no weapon except the soldier's breast," a Rus- 
sian infantryman told the British historian, Pares, when he visited the front 
in 1915. "This is not war, sir," another said. "It is slaughter." 

ffindenburg, not exactly a sensitive observer, was horrified by the carnage 
on the eastern front. ". . . Sometimes in our battles wifh the Russians," 
he writes in his memoirs, "we had to remove the mounds of enemy corpses 
from before our trenches in order to get a clear field of fire against fresh 
assaulting waves." 


Defeat in battle often creates a vicious circle, or spiral, of conditions 
that the defeated army finds it increasingly difficult to break. This is what 
happened to the Russians in World War L The heavy losses in the first ten 
months of fighting almost wiped out the admirable generation of young 
professional officers that had been its major assetand one of the regime's 
bulwarks against revolution. Both the technical and the moral quality of 
combat leadership steadily declined, and so did its political reliability. 
Avoidable losses mounted, and the morale of the ranks declined with their 
confidence in their officers and with their hopes of victory. Similarly, the 
great German offensives in the spring and summer of 1915 which pushed 
the Russians out of Poland, most of the Baltic provinces and part of the 
Ukraine, deprived them of their best railways, thus accentuating their 
logistic weaknesses. 

In trying to counteract or minimize the difficulties at the front, the Rus- 
sian High Command inadvertently contributed to the demoralization and 
disorganization of the rest of the country. It uprooted the civilian popula- 
tionmostly Jewish throughout a vast zone behind the lines, tying up pre- 
cious transportations and dumping several million demoralized refugees 
upon the overburdened towns of the interior with as little regard for the 
social and economic problems as for the human misery thereby created. 
With equal recklessness the army alienated the peasant masses by con- 
tinually squeezing them to make good the wastage of effectives and of live- 
stock for transport. Its ill-considered exactions fell particularly heavily 
upon those muzhiks who had become small private landowners thanks to 
Stolypin's reforms. With their sons mobilized and their horses requisitioned, 
they could no longer work their fields; a great many of them had to sell out. 
Thus the army unwittingly sabotaged the agrarian program that might have 
averted the Bolshevik Revolution-Trotsky, at least, thought it might have 
done so just as it was beginning to take effect. 

The fatal error of Czarist leadership between 1914 and 1917 was letting 
the war occur at all; one way or another, most of the subsequent ones 
stemmed from that initial blunder. Naturally, as the disasters and the 
stresses accumulated, the aberrations of leadership became more frequent 
and more glaring. Probably no regime in history was ever so thoroughly 
overkilled as the Russian despotism. The last days of the Romanov dynasty 
recall one of those obsessive suicides where the victim swallows poison, 
slashes his wrists, and climbs over the parapet of a high bridge before blow- 
ing his brains out. The most unmistakable symptoms of the dynastic death 
wish were manifested at the very pinnacle of the autocracy. The weird po- 
litical and psychological drama in which the Czar, the Czarina and the 
so-called starets or Man of God, Gregory Rasputin, were the principal 
actors, has already been mentioned; the time has come to relate its climax* 


Though the power of the starets had been growing since Stolypin's death 
in 1911, the true reign of Rasputin dates from 1915. Two events which 
occurred in September of that year simultaneously assured his ascendancy 
and paved the way for the ultimate downfall of the regime. The first one 
was the rupture of the tacit political truce which had existed since the be- 
ginning of the war between the Czar and the democratic or reformist parties 
in the Duma. Early in September the leaders of these parties pooled their 
forces to create the so-called Progressive Bloc-the strongest coherent group 
in the Duma on the basis of a common program calling for some mildly 
liberal reforms and for an intensified war effort. From the constitutional 
viewpoint there was nothing revolutionary in the program but it asked the 
Czar to appoint a new council of ministers in which the country could have 
confidence. If Nicholas had accepted, it would have made the monarchy 
more popular but at the same time it would have implicitly repudiated the 
doctrine of absolutism which he felt himself committed to uphold. Under- 
standably he hesitated. Alexandra, whose personal itch to rule was rein- 
forced by her fanatical dedication to the mystique of autocracy, had no 
doubts what the Czar's response would be; when a majority of his minis- 
ters recommended acceptance of the Progressive Bloc's program, Alexandra 
denounced them to her husband as "fiends worse than the Duma." Ras- 
putin, whose absolutist convictions were probably sincere, naturally sup- 
ported her. Under pressure from them Nicholas eventually rejected the 
plea for a "Ministry of Confidence" and prorogued the session of the 
Duma, thereby opening a latent constitutional crisis that was to remain 
unresolved until March 1917. 

The other irremediable blunder of September 1915 was the Czar's de- 
cision to relieve the respected, dependable Grand Duke Nicholas at GHQ 
and to assume personal command of his armies in the field. The Czar had 
long been covertly jealous of his uncle's popularity, and Alexandra, egged 
on by Rasputin, had insidiously exploited the sentiment. She had a double 
score to settle with the Grand Duke; "overshadowing" the Czar, and dis- 
respect for the starets (when Rasputin had suggested visiting GHQ to hang 
a votive icon the Grand Duke, now thoroughly disillusioned about his 
former prot6ge, had sent the terse telegraphic reply: "Come and I'll hang 

From the narrow military viewpoint the change in command was not 
important; the Chief of Staff, General Mikhail Alexeyev, handled things 
quite competently in the Czar's name, and Nicholas for once showed good 
sense by refraining from any interference in the conduct of operations. The 
fiction that the Czar was actively commanding which Alexeyev went to 
elaborate lengths to maintain was no help to the prestige of dynasty, how- 
ever, since the war was going from bad to worse. The circumstances of the 
shake-up at Supreme Headquarters had infuriated or disheartened the en- 


lightened elements in Russian public life, thus aggravating the conflict with 
parliament. Above all, the Czar's mythical command kept him away from 
the capital much of the time and in his absence Alexandra established what 
was almost a de facto regency, with Rasputin as her clandestine Chancellor. 
"Think, my wifey, will you not come to the assistance of your hubby now 
that he is absent?" Nicholas imprudently suggested in one of his first letters 
home from the Stavka at Moghilev on the Dnieper. 

Alexandra had been offering assistance rather freely for some time 
"don't laugh at silly old wifey, but she has trousers* on/' as she put it in 
one of her letters-but now she cast aside all discretion. Not content merely 
to bombard her husband with advice and to influence appointments she 
began intervening directly in the governance of the country. In one of her 
letters to Nicholas she even boasted naively that she was the first Empress 
to receive ministers regularly since Catherine the Great who usurped her 
husband's throne and took his murderer into her bed. Alexandra's mauve 
boudoir in Catherine's old palace at Tsaiskoe Selo became the secret com- 
mand post of the empire. 

Rasputin was equally active. Despite his initial opposition to the war he 
displayed an unexpected interest in military affairs that is reflected in Alex- 
andra's letters to her husband: 

October 10, 1915: "He (Rasputin) says you must give the order that 
only waggons with flour, butter and sugar should be allowed to pass: there 
are to be no other trains for three days. He saw the whole thing in the night 

in a vision." 

November 8: "He dictated to me the other day I saw Him walking 
about, praying and crossing himself, about Rumania and Greece and our 
troops passing through." 

November 15: Rasputin has another strategic vision and on the strength 
of it orders an offensive near Riga, ''prompted," the Czarina says, "by what 
he saw in the night." (Next June we hear that he categorically forbids a 
scheduled attack in the same sector.) 

December 15: Alexandra transmits some new instructions from Our 
Friend, reporting that there was an additional one which unfortunately 
"He cannot remember." Nonetheless, she concludes, "He says we must 
always do what He says." 

Much to the Czar's discomfort not to mention that of the General Staff 
Rasputin frequently insisted on being told in advance the exact date on 
which an offensive was scheduled to be launched. The usual pretext was 
that he needed the information to pray for victory. Sometimes, however, his 
curiosity was inspired by more worldly considerations, as illustrates the 
following excerpt from the testimony of one of his high-level henchmen 


A. N, Hvostov, a former Minister of the Interior before the provisional 
government's investigating committee: 

"Rasputin went to Tsarsfcoe Selo and Rubinstein [a shady banker who 
was also suspected of being a German spy] asked him to find out if an of- 
fensive was going to take place; he explained to his friends that he needed 
to know because he was thinking of buying some forest lands in the prov- 
ince of Minsk [at the time occupied by the Germans] and if we are going 
to launch an offensive in that area their value would go up, so it would be 
a good investment I learned that Rasputin discharged his mission, and on 
his return he related what he had said at Tsarskoe Selo." 

Rasputin was always handsomely rewarded for the information or other 
services that he supplied to his profiteering friends, some of whom were al- 
most certainly German agents. Though not quite as shiftless in financial 
matters as he has sometimes been portrayed, the starets was not primarily 
interested in making money for himself. As his power grew the scale and 
recklessness of his traffic in influence increased proportionally, but the 
bulk of it consisted in collecting payment in kind from female petitioners 
seeking exemption from military service for their men-folk or such per- 
quisites for themselves as the pay-toilet concession in some provincial rail- 
road station. It was not uncommon for Rasputin to pick up a prostitute 
and in lieu of payment rendered to give her a penciled note of introduction 
to one of the ministers. 

From the end of 1915 on there is a rising note of madness accompanying 
Rasputin's extravagances. The desire to flaunt his power by inflicting gro- 
tesque humiliations not only upon his adversaries but upon his accomplices 
is evident At times Rasputin seemed almost to be courting disaster for him- 
self; he once created a national scandal in a Moscow night club by drunk- 
enly boasting of his intimacy with the Czarina in such terms as to create 
the impression that she slept with him. Whether Rasputin's more lurid 
transgressions were inspired by megalomania, despair, guilty conscience, or 
some extraordinary Russian blend of all three, is a matter of speculation. 
He was generally protected from the consequences of his recklessness by a 
succession of highly placed rascals, who looked upon him as a valuable 
supplier of patronage and graft, and naturally did not want him to come to 
grief. Most of these parasites were connected in one way or another with 
the Okhrana, whose resources were mobilized to keep the starets out of 
trouble. The last of Rasputin's self-appointed managers was a colorful but 
sinister rogue named I. F. Manasevich-Manuilov, a former Okhrana opera- 
tive who had once been sent to Rome to try to organize a Russian spy net- 
work in the Vatican, and who had later handled the Okhrana's slush fund 
in Paris for a time. 

Maoasevich-Manuilov had a curious weakness: he liked to be frank 


about himself when at all possible. "I am a vicious man," he once told a 
noted anti-Czarist journalist. "I love money; I love life." With his pomaded 
hair, flashing, dark Levantine eyes, sparkling rings and overtailored clothes 
he certainly looked the part he had chosen to play. Born a Jew and con- 
verted first to Lutheranism and then to the Orthodox faith, he had started 
his career as the henchman of an ultraright-wing fanatic and had personally 
helped to launch several bloody pogroms. Eventually he proved too gamey 
even for the Okhrana and he was fired from the service. Thereafter he 
made his living as a journalist it was he who had got the scoop on Ras- 
putin's bathhouse escapades as a low-level fixer and above all as a black- 
mailer. He had prospered in these occupations, but the nostalgia from his 
police days never left him and the dream of his life, was to create a new 
super-secret service in Russia and to be appointed its head. In tenacious 
pursuit of this goal he joined Anna Vyrubova's clique and attached himself 
to Rasputin as a kind of confidential secretary. Manasevich-Manuilov saw 
to it that the starets had his daily quota of Madeira and wenches, but 
managed to surround his revels with an unwanted curtain of discretion. 
Even the Okhrana could no longer keep score on Rasputin's fornications 
and shady business deals; his new confidential secretary had taken the pre- 
caution of requisitioning for his private use a powerful army car that was 
too fast for the Okhrana's motorized agents to keep up with. In the po- 
litical sphere, however, Manasevich-Manuilov encouraged Rasputin's mad- 
dest fantasies and helped to shape them into a coherent form that made 
them all the more dangerous; from time to time he seems to have been in 
direct contact with the Czarina as well. Under his influence both she and 
Rasputin lost what little touch with political reality they still possessed and 
embarked on a wild power spree. 

All the ministers or high officials who had ever dared to criticize or re- 
sist the starets were marked down for removal* One of the first to go was 
General A. A. Polivanov, the able energetic war minister who had suc- 
ceeded Sukhomlinov, perhaps the most indispensable man in Russia from 
the viewpoint of the war effort. When Nicholas showed some reluctance to 
deprive the army of the efficient administrator who for the first time since 
the beginning of the war had succeeded in getting an almost adequate flow 
of munitions moving to the front, Alexandra kept nagging at him in her 
letters until he gave in. "Get rid of Polivanov," she wrote on January 9, 
1916. "Remember about Polivanov," she reminded him a few weeks later. 
"Lovey, don't dawddle." 

Sazonov, the honest, loyal Foreign Minister who enjoyed the confidence 
of Russia's allies soon followed Polivanov into the discard. Early in 1916, 
Alexandra persuaded the Czar to appoint as Prime Minister, Boris Stunner, 
an obscure political hack with some rather dubious associations; now she 
caused him to be named Foreign Minister as well. Stunner was the discovery 


gent believers in the autocracy the situation looked desperate whichever 
way one turned-perhaps that was one reason for Rasputin's increasingly 
mad behavior and the temptation to seek desperate remedies was under- 
standable. The trouble with all the remedies envisaged by Alexandra or 
Rasputin or Protopopov was that they were ultimately self-sabotaging in 
terms of the autocracy itself. i 

It is by no means unlikely that Alexandra was planning to top off her 
projected coup d*6tat against the constitution by having Rasputin officially 
named Prime Minister. Rasputin himself, according to Manasevich-Manui- 
lov, had an even more revolutionary aim: to depose the Czar and to en- 
throne Alexandra as regent, after the example of Catherine the Great. It 
has not been definitely established that any such scheme existed, other 
than in the starets' drunken babble if it did, Manasevich-Manuilov was 
probably its real author but it was suspected, and even rumored at the 
time, and that in itself was another damaging blow to the moral authority 
of the monarchy. The final one, paradoxically, was the murder of Rasputin 
on December 29, 1916. 

All sorts of Russians, from wronged husbands to disinterested patriots, 
had sound reasons for wanting to kill the starets. The little group of con- 
spirators who finally succeeded in ending his unofficial reign (there had 
already been several halfhearted plots to do so) was composed of ultra- 
right-wing monarchists. Their political ideal was essentially the same one 
professed by their victim: to make Russia safe for autocracy. It was be- 
cause Rasputin was mining the cause of autocratic monarchy as well as 
that of the nation itself-that he had to die. 

The actual executioner was Prince Felix Yusupov, an orchidaceous 
young man about court who had married one of the Czar's nieces. He car- 
ried out his gruesome mission with aristocratic amateurishness, and Ras- 
putin's end in consequence was as grotesquely messy as his whole career 
had been. Yusupov lured the starets to his home for a midnight drinking 
bout, served him Madeira spiked with potassium cyanide. While waiting for 
the poison to take effect Yusupov played the guitar for the man he was 
murdering. His co-conspirators upstairs steadied their nerves by playing 
Yankee Doodle over and over again on the phonograph. When it was clear 
that the cyanide had failed, Yusupov used a revolver. Rasputin fell on his 
back, seemingly dead. Later, however, he revived and was only finished off 
by one of the shaken young prince's accomplices-rafter a ghastly scuffle. 
The blood-spattered corpse was weighted and dropped through a hole in 
the ice into an arm of the Neva. 

The macabre crime produced results far different from what its authors 
had intended. They had, after a fashion, avenged the honor of the monarchy 
by slaying its chief corrupter, but in so doing they had inevitably under- 
scored in the public mind the scandal of its corruption. The damage to the 


prestige of the regime was irreparable. The wound to the morale and the 
cohesion of its natural supporters was unhealable. The assassination of the 
starets simultaneously revealed and aggravated a split at the highest levels 
of the Czarist power-elites. All the progressive elements in the nation had 
long since been driven into opposition; now it was made clear that the 
lucid conservatives and the honest reactionaries were no less alienated* "The 
bullet which killed him [Rasputin] reSbhed the very heart of the ruling 
dynasty/' wrote the revolutionary poet Alexander Blok, whose verdict 
Trotsky endorses. The bullet proved to be all the deadlier because in a sense 
it had missed its real target. In killing Rasputin it had only strengthened 
Rasputinism and made it more vicious. The Czarina clung more stubbornly 
than ever to her suicidal plan for a sort of neoabsolutist coup against the 
constitution of 1905. The Czar remained tied to her apron strings. The 
court camarilla kept on intriguing and profiteering. The incredible Proto- 
popov incredibly remained at his post as Minister of the Interior. Thanks 
to him the late starets even continued to guide the destinies of the monarchy 
from the other world, for Protopopov in moments of crisis consulted Ras- 
putin's spirit through a professional medium. The dynasty was clearly de- 
termined to keep its rendezvous with death. It did not have long to wait. 


The Lost Revolution 

SOME disorders occurred today," Sir George Buchanan, the 
British Ambassador in Petrograd reported to his govern- 
ment on March 9, 1917, "but nothing serious." A more perceptive observer 
would no doubt have realized that in the bitter third winter of the war any 
disorders in the Czarist capital were potentially serious, but Sir George's 
prosaic dispatch, unwittingly announcing the onset of the most momentous 
political upheaval in Western history since the French Revolution actually, 
it had started the day before was not quite so fatuous as it sounds. Riots 
and strikes were not novelties in wartime Petrograd; at the end of October 
1916 they had broken out on such a dramatic scale that two entire regi- 
ments of the local garrison, called in to restore order, had caught the in- 
surrectionary fever and fired on the police instead of on the mob. Even that 
bloody clash 150 of the mutineers were subsequently executed by firing 
squads had not touched off a general uprising, and the British Ambassador 
had no grounds for supposing that the initially milder disturbances that 
began on March 8 would do so. The leaders of the revolutionary parties 
themselves showed hardly any more flair. Both the regime and its enemies, 
as Trotsky remarks, had long been preparing for the revolution, but both 
were caught unawares when it exploded in their faces. Undoubtedly the 
Bolshevik historian is right in saying the real leadership of the March move- 
ment came from below; he is far less convincing when he tries to demon- 
strate that its leaders were mainly professional, if obscure, revolutionaries. 
The professionals whether liberals or Marxists may have proposed, but it 
was the amateurs who seem to have disposed. The March Revolution was 
schizophrenic from the beginning, not only in its ideals but in its very tex- 
ture. Its basic relationship to the historic context was warped: in a sense the 


Russian monarchy collapsed before it could be overthrown, and smothered 
the revolution under its own ruins. 

The particular tragedy of the Democratic Socialists like Alexander Keren- 
sky, of the liberal monarchists like Paul Milyukov, of the more-or-less en- 
lightened conservatives like Alexander Guchkov, who for several weeks or 
months had been actively plotting an anti-autocratic coup of some kind- 
Kerensky in February had publicly called for the elimination of the Czar 
"by terrorist means if necessary," and the Chief of Staff General Alexeyev 
had a plan for arresting the Czarina and forcing a change of government 
on Nicholas at gun-pointis that before they could act they were thrust 
into honorary leadership of a ready-made revolution which they had had 
no hand in organizing. Trotsky and other Bolshevik historians have held 
the leaders of the bourgeoisie opposition up to scorn as typiJfying the pol- 
troonery and futility of a doomed class in a time of social upheaval, but in 
the light of what we have witnessed during the last half century these hap- 
less men deserve some indulgence. They were no more ineffectual, after all, 
than the leaders, whatever their social origins, of the anti-Nazi opposition 
in Hitler's Germany. And how daring, lucid, and resolute were the present 
rulers of Soviet Russia during the Caligulesque twilight of Stalin's reign? 
For that matter, what mysterious influence dulled Trotsky's own conspira- 
torial reflexes when the epigom started trimming the old lion's claws? The 
real lesson of history is that while despotism almost never succeeds in totally 
stamping out all active opposition, it invariably mutilates its opponents in 
some way, and the closer they stand to the seat of despotic power, the 
graver the mutilation. Naturally when slaves try to strike off their chains, 
their movements are less uninhibited than those of men who were born 
free, or who early escaped to the free life of outlaws. 

That much having been said, for the sake of justice and out of common 
humanity, it must be admitted that the oppositional role of the Russian 
elites whether officers, aristocrats, or bourgeois intellectuals on the eve of 
the March uprising was as pathetic as it was afterward. Their conspiratorial 
agitation was an important factor in paralyzing the reactions of the old 
regime when the insurrection occurred, but they were themselves the ulti- 
mate victims of the chaos thereby induced. Their predicament can be com- 
pared to that of a timid and inexperienced bridegroom whose inept 
fumblings arouse the passions of his adolescent bride just enough to push her 
into the arms of the first tramp who knocks at the door, leaving the poor 
cuckold with the responsibility for trying to raise the congenital little rebel 
that she later brings forth. The tramp if the essential factor must be per- 
sonalizedin the Man* Revolution, and particularly in the breakdown that 
followed it, was the demoralized soldier or ex-soldier, absent from the front 
through desertion, convalescence, or administrative hazard, and con- 


sciously or unconsciously prepared to tear society to shreds rather than to 
risk going or returning there. 

"The soldiers will return like wild beasts," Rasputin had accurately 
warned the Czar in urging him to halt the useless slaughter of General 
Brusilov's offensive on the Galician front, which between June and mid- 
September 1916 had brought in 375,000 prisoners but had cost the Rus- 
sians 550,000 men without achieving any really decisive result. 

It was the soldiers, whether mutineers from units of the Petrograd garri- 
son or deserters and stragglers back from the front, who supplied the leaven 
of revolutionary violence to the doughy mass of proletarian discontent in 
Petrograd and the other industrial centers. Wages had naturally risen since 
the beginning of the war, but the cost of living had risen three times as 
fast. The nation's food production was theoretically adequate to feed the 
whole population, but there were often local and temporary shortages of 
staples. Housewives spent hours standing in lines in front of stores (Ras- 
putin had once shrewdly suggested ordering the bakeries to sell pre-sliced 
bread, so as to shorten time that the women spent waiting in queues and 
thereby to diminish the opportunities for collective grumbling and rumor- 
mongering). The scarcity of coal and firewood was an additional hardship, 
especially in the capital where the biting cold of the Russian winter is 
preceded by bleak weeks of damp and mud. Sharpening the pinch of these 
bodily tribulations were the normal irritants or depressants of casualty 
lists, the spectacle of flagrant profiteering, the Rasputin scandal, Protopo- 
pov's harsh and stupidly vexatious measures against organized labor. 

". . . the industrial proletariat of the capital is on the verge of despair," 
a police report noted with unusual lucidity in November 1916. "... the 
smallest outbreak due to any pretext will lead to uncontrollable riots." 

The pretexts that finally did touch off the uprising were obscure and 
diverse. One was a labor dispute in the great Putilov steel works that had 
culminated in the lock-out of some 30,000 workers. Another was a short- 
age of bread, due mainly to unusually heavy snowfalls during the first week 
of March which had hampered communications and deprived many 
bakeries in Petrograd of fuel (there seems to have been no lack of flour) . A 
third, more formal pretext was the observation of International Woman's 
Day, a new institution of vaguely socialistic origin, set for March 8. Some 
of the revolutionary movements in the capital had planned to exploit the 
occasion by instigating anti-war demonstrations. A little-known Bolshevik 
agitator in the Vyborg industrial quarter named V. N. Kayurov the im- 
portant Bolshevik leaders were mostly in exile or prison was particularly 
active in organizing parades of female textile workers to march through the 
streets chanting subversive slogans like "Down with (he war" and "Give Us 
Bread." In haranguing his feminine audiences Kayurov seems to have 
stressed the warning to avoid any provocative action that might give the 


police an excuse for firing on the demonstrators; for the same reason most 
of the leftist leaders were initially opposed to any city-wide strike. As the 
rumor of projected demonstrations spread through the factories of the 
Vyborg quarter, however, more and more workers, men as well as women, 
decided to walk out. Once in the streets from early in the morning on 
March 8 they forgot the prudent advice given them by Kayurov and other 
experienced agitators, and started looting the bread shops. At its beginnings 
the Russian Revolution was a series of scattered bread riots in the capital. 

The authorities were naturally nervous about the impending demon- 
strationspolice spies had given early warning of them but they were not 
seriously alarmed. The Czar, brushing aside a not-very-insistent plea by 
Protopopov to remain in the capital, left for Moghilev early on March 8. 
("I shall take up dominoes again in my spare time," he wrote the Czarina 
on his arrival there.) Responsibility for maintaining order in Petrograd 
rested on Protopopov (of all people); on the commander of the military 
district, General Khabalov, a harsh but bumbling officer; on the City 
Prefect, Balk, a creature of Rasputin's; and ultimately on the Premier, the 
decrepit Prince Nicholas Golitsyn who had been appointed a few weeks 
earlier (the old prince had not wanted the premiership but according to 
Trotsky he finally accepted it to round out his career 'Svith one more pleas- 
ant memory"). The Petrograd garrison consisted of some 160,000 men, 
plus 3500 heavily armed police and some cadet training units, the so-called 
Yunkers. To minimize the risk of serious bloodshed the official defense plan 
worked out a month earlier called for relying initially on the police alone to 
control any disorders that might break out in the capital. If they proved un- 
able to control the situation, two mounted regiments of the dreaded Don 
Cossacks would be sent in to scatter the crowds. The infantry had to be 
held as a last reserve for desperate circumstances. Khabalov's decision to 
avoid exposing his shaky garrison troops to the contagion of the mob, lest 
it produce another mutiny like the October one was understandable but he 
showed bad judgment in sticking to the plan too rigidly and too long. In 
particular he committed a fatal error by not pitting his Cossacks against the 
rioters before the tumult became uncontrollable, and by failing to issue 
them their usual cruelly effective whips when he finally did send them into 

By the end of the second day, March 9, it was already plain that a popu- 
lar rising was gathering in Petrograd. In a sense it was true, as the British 
Ambassador had cabled, that nothing serious had happened: no major pub- 
lic buildings had been stormed, no troops had mutinied; police casualties 
for the two days amounted to twenty-eight men slightly wounded, mostly 
from pieces of ice, rocks, or cobblestones hurled by the demonstrators. The 
crowds, however, had been growing steadily in size and aggressiveness; the 
red flags of 1905 were beginning to reappear; cries of "Down with the 


Autocracy," or "Down with the German Woman," were ringing more and 
more frequently in the snow-carpeted streets; students and white-collar 
workers were beginning to join in the demonstrations or scuffles with the 
police, which were no longer confined to the industrial suburbs. Surprised 
by the revolutionary temper of the masses, the top leadership of the left- 
wing organizations Social Revolutionaries, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and a 
small but at that time extremely militant Marxist group called the Mezhra- 
yonka started issuing incendiary manifestoes, set up co-ordinating com- 
mittees and proclaimed a three-day general strike. A number of the 
responsible leftist leaders were promptly arrested, but the main effect of 
this, as Trotsky remarks, was to give a free hand to their more combative 
lieutenants, like Kayurov, at the district or factory level. (The local Bol- 
shevik cadres played a part in organizing the Petrograd insurrection, in so 
far as it was organized, but there is no evidence that they played the leading 

Saturday, March 10, was a significant turning point in the disorders. It 
marked the stage when riot merges into revolt. The transmutation if it is 
checked before it has gone too far does not always have grave political 
implications, and at first it may not even produce an increment of noise or 
violence: sometimes there is a deceptive lull. Most newspapermen who 
have covered the more unsettled regions of our planet during the last half- 
century have witnessed the phenomenon at least once in their careers. It 
is an unforgettable experience but never an easy one to report. The air 
thickens to a mustard haze that is heavier and more smarting than the physi- 
cal smoke of battle; contours grow ragged and objects seem to bulge; the 
firing and the bursting of grenades, the shattering of glass, the thuds and 
crashes, the screams of horses and throaty cries of men are muffled by the 
elemental surf pounding in the inner ear. As the power of the state totters, 
so does the mental authority which in a civilized society polices through- 
ways of causality and guards the intersections of our categories: the rational 
world of our normal vision splinters into a mosaic of vivid discontinuities. 
The battle scene becomes a succession of tableaux unrelated to each other 
in time and space, or perversely related as in the old newsreels. An agitator 
in a fur hat harangues the crowd with jerky, puppet movements of his 
arms; suddenly it scatters; here and there a figure crumples on the side- 
walk, apparently struck down by his mortal rhetoric. The crowd reassem- 
blesor perhaps it is another crowd: shapeless female bundles covered with 
shawls, men in long overcoats and baggy trousers, marching in an uneven 
column, that seems wracked by spasmodic tremors of discipline or enthusi- 
asm, behind a wide red banderole. A file of soldiers with short-visored 
caps and gray overcoats, holding long rifles with needlelike bayonets, lines 
up to block the street: an officer with shoulder boards on his greatcoat and 
a contorted face threatens the camera. At his order the soldiers drop to 


one knee aiming at the oncoming marchers, but whether they fire or not we 
never learn: there is a flickering of quicksilver and next we see a knot of 
soldiers and civilians, closely intermingled, gesticulating around a bonfire; 
the caps or shoulders of some of the figures are dusted with fresh snow; 
apparently dusk has fallen. 

Such axe the celluloid or cardboard images of the March Revolution 
that have been preserved for us; their very incoherence, however accidental, 
probably furnishes a closer approximation to psychological reality than 
the spoken word can give. The mental universe of a revolutionary mob, as 
the nineteenth-century French sociologist, Gustave Le Bon, has pointed out, 
is a prelogical one, and the mob itself is not so much a social chaos as an 
archaic society, swept by intense collective hates and fears, responding al- 
most magically to charismatic leadership, displaying an antlike capacity for 
spontaneous organization and endowed with an instinctual sense of strat- 
egy like that possessed by pack-hunting animals. These characteristics are 
not manifested by a normal political crowd, however indignant or agitated; 
they sometimes develop with eerie suddenness in the course of large-scale 
and prolonged civfl disorders when the prestige of authority wears off in 
clashes and skirmishes with the rioters. In the Russian Revolution it was 
during the third day of rioting, when some 240,000 demonstrators were in 
the streets, that this awesome precipitation occurred. 

Trotsky, though not an eyewitness he was living in New York at the 
time has written a superb and probably accurate account of how it hap- 

"By noon [March 10] tens of thousands of people pour to the Kazan 
Cathedral and the surrounding streets; a series of aimed encounters with 
the police occurs. Orators address the crowds around the Alexander DDE 
monument [this means they had succeeded in reaching the administrative 
heart of the capital]. The mounted police open fire. A speaker falls 
wounded. Shots from the crowd kill a police inspector, wound the chief 
of police and several other policemen. Bottles, petards and hand-grenades 
are thrown at the gendarmes. The war had taught this art. The soldiers 
show indifference, at times hostility, to the police. It spreads excitedly 
through the crowd that when the police opened fire by the Alexander M 
monument, the Cossacks let go a volley at the horse Tharaos' (such was 
the nickname of the police) and the latter had to gallop off." 

The rumor about the Cossacks may have been merely an illustration of 
how such a mob intoxicates itself with myths of hope or dread, but Trotsky 
thinVfi it was correct In any case he cites an authentic incident that oc- 
curred later the same day, as related by Kayurov, the Bolshevik agitator, 
who was one of the few mob leaders to write down his recollections. When 
the group of rioters that Kayurov was egging on were scattered by police 


whips within sight of a detachment of Cossacks, he and several of his 
followers took their caps in hand and humbly approached the Cossacks. 
"Brothers-Cossacks-help the workers in a struggle for their peaceable de- 
mands," Kayurov pleaded. "You see how the Pharaos treat us hungry 
workers. Help us." The response is given by Trotsky in Kayurov's own 
words: "The Cossacks glanced at each other in some special way, and we 
were hardly out of the way before they rushed into the fight." 

It was a spectacular victory of the insurrection. The Cossacks these 
"age-old subduers and punishers" as Trotsky calls them were the last hope 
of the regime. They had already betrayed symptoms of disaffection the pre- 
vious day, charging the crowds as ordered, but tacitly acquiescing when the 
demonstrators dived to safety under the bellies of their horses (this was 
when the lack of whips proved disastrous). No doubt Trotsky is justified in 
praising the shrewdness of Kayurov's revolutionary tactics, and in arguing 
that the Cossacks were sick of war and repression like everyone else, but 
Kayuxov's anecdote illustrates above all the tremendous power of con- 
tagion and absorption that every mob possesses regardless of the ideological 
pretexts that brought it into being. This almost magical power of winning 
over the enemy was demonstrated again and again during the Petrograd 
rising, and the insurgents systematically exploited it, cheering the very 
troops charging to attack them. 

Every time the soldiers were exposed to direct contact with the mob they 
returned to their billets carrying with them, like an invisible mold upon 
their uniforms, the ferments of fraternization. "I order that the disorders 
shall be stopped tomorrow," Nicholas had wked from Moghilev on March 
10. The command was not really absurd; it was merely fatal. In trying to 
execute it General Khabalov almost succeeded in driving the insurrection 
off the streets; it then exploded in the barracks. On Sunday afternoon 
March 11, a few hours after the Czarina had wired her husband, "All is 
calm in the city," and about the time that the Bolshevik leader Kayurov 
was dejectedly proclaiming that "the insurrection is dissolving," a com- 
pany of the Pavlovsky regiment of the Imperial Guards mutinied in protest 
when they learned that a training unit in their regiment had fired into the 
crowd of workers. That night there were tumultuous meetings in barracks 
throughout the city. Self-appointed agitators, most of them without any 
previous revolutionary backgroundthose first "forever nameless" voices of 
the revolution in the army whose role Trotsky stresses harangued their 
comrades, consciously or unconsciously reiterating the slogans of fraterni- 
zation that the mob had all day been dinning in their ears. 

This phenomenon the "molecular work" of the revolution as Trotsky 
terms it was the decisive process of the March uprising, and as always 
when we come to the basic chemistry of history, it remains a mystery. There 
is only scanty evidence as to the substance and pattern of the discussions in 


these impromptu barrack-room parliaments of revolt that were to have 
such far-reaching influence upon the destiny of the world, but through the 
fog of tobacco smoke and the reek of unwashed bodies we get tantalizing 
glimpses of an eternal debate in the central core of the human personality 
itself. The garrison troops in Petrograd had been exposed to many com- 
peting propagandas among which the atavistic herd appeal of the mob 
itself was by no means the least potent but they do not appear to have 
been swept away by any of them. They contended with each other's 
thoughts, and with their own, neither like animals, nor like automatons nor 
like intellectuals, but simply like men in a human predicament. Two psy- 
chological factors seem to have been decisive in the end. 

The first was the sense of human brotherhood: the refusal to be an ex- 
ecutioner. Most of the soldiers in the Petrograd garrison, even in the 
Guards' regiments, were civilians recently put into uniform. Whatever they 
thought of the Czar, or of the monarchy, or of the army and they cer- 
tainly felt little enthusiasm for any of them they were indignant and 
aghast at the prospect of being ordered out into the streets again to shoot 
down other civilians, most of them unarmed and friendly, many of them 
women or children. It was an authentic feeling in every sense, very natural, 
very clear, and it was intertwined with an equally clear realization that there 
were only a few hours in which to decide. The Pharaos were good execu- 
tioners but there were not enough of them: when morning came and riots 
resumed the army would have to take over their work. TTiis meant shoot- 
ing: not firing in the air; shooting to kill. 

Here the other factor came into play: the antithetical idealism of private 
salvation, the prospective deserter's intuition of his moral duty to dissociate 
himself from collective disaster. It would be dangerous to refuse obedience, 
but it might prove no less dangerous to obey. The firing squad was waiting 
for deserters and mutineers; but the mob had more savage ways of punish- 
ing its enemies as the luckless Pharaos were discovering. It might be 
beastly to turn against one's officers; but some of them were beginning to 
get a beast-look in their eyes. Underlying the immediate choice of terrors 
was the more general issue of perilous conformity or of heroic defection 
posed by the wax itself. Sooner or later whether or not the garrison troops 
did their duty, sheer necessity would cause them to be sent to the front 

Thus angel and demon wrestled in the souls of the Czar's soldiers, and as 
often happens, walked away from the struggle arm-in-arm. Love, hate, 
brotherhood, egoism, courage, and cowardice jointly prevailed over social 
habit At 7 A.M. on March 12, after a whole night of fevered discussion, 
the Volinsk regiment of the guards, led by a sergeant named Kirpichnikov 
and by an officer-candidate named Astakhov neither of these key figures 
in the revolution ever appears again on the stage of history marched out 
of its barracks under arms with its band playing the Marseillaise; what 


happened to the unit's officers is obscure. The mutineers, seeking safety in 
numbers, proceeded to the nearby quarters of the Preobrazhensky and 
Litovsky regiments and called out their comrades. From that moment on 
the revolution became irreversible. The Imperial Army in Petrograd disin- 
tegrated. Regiment after regiment either rose against its officers sometimes 
killing them-or melted away through individual desertions. The Cossacks, 
and some other elements of the garrison, held themselves aloof, reluctant 
to join the rebellion, but unwilling to fire on their comrades. 

The soldiers who had mutinied or deserted joined the civilian insurgents 
in storming the precinct police stations where the Pharaos had barricaded 
themselves often defended with machine guns and then began attacking 
other public buildings. In the early afternoon of March 12, a mob spear- 
headed by its military elements, successfully attacked the Arsenal; from 
then on virtually every revolutionary who wanted a rifle had one. Later the 
same afternoon the revolutionaries sacked the headquarters of the Okhrana, 
set the central court buildings on fire, and finally captured the seemingly 
impregnable island fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Czarist Bastille. 
Various jails were raided and the prisoners released. By the end of the day 
General Khabalov's command had dwindled for all practical purposes to 
about 2000 loyal troops, concentrated around the Winter Palace and the 

Here is the street scene in the heart of the Czarist capital at this dra- 
matic moment as reported by an objective and thoughtful eyewitness, a 
Dutch professor named L. H. Grandijs, writing in the French weekly 

"It is four in the afternoon when I reach the Nevsky Prospekt [the wide 
monumental avenue starting from the Admiralty square near the river] 
... I hear firing all around. Just as I am starting up the steps that lead to 
the bridge, the crowd that had been on it scatters. We just have time to 
duck our heads before there is a salvo. The crowd is astonishingly calm. 
As soon as the fusillade is over people rush out to look. . . , 

"Stretcher-bearers pass by, carrying a corpse and a wounded man. A 
Red Cross auto is loudly cheered by everyone , , . A sister of charity leans 
out of the ambulance and frantically waves her red handkerchief . . . The 
crowd is composed of workers, of students belonging to the petty bourgeoi- 
sie and of a certain number of toughs who come from God knows where. 
... In the distance orators are haranguing the people from the statues on 
the Anitschkov bridge. . . . 

"Soldiers appear in the Liteiny Prospefct [another wide avenue that bi- 
sects the Nevsky]. They look tired, anxious, but resolute; all have rifles 
in their hands. They are followed by young workers and students armed 
with revolvers, officer's sabers, bayonets, military rifles and shotguns. No- 


body is in command but all the same there is a kind of order stemming 
from unity of purpose and depth of conviction. . , . There is a noise of 
steel against wood; some hooligans are trying to force open the door of a 
tobacco shop. But arms are thrust out and the older workers cry out, 
'Brothers, don't do that. Move along brothers. . . .' 

"All the cafes are closed since this morning, so I enter a lower-class tea 
house in Kazanskaia street. It is full of soldiers, workers and small shop- 
keepers, all discussing the events of the day with amazing calm . . . For 
the time being there is no hatred of the Czar and there seems general will- 
ingness to continue fighting the war . . . The common people are con- 
cerned with the problems of daily life, not with principles or political 
systems. . . . They want bread. They accuse the present minister of crimi- 
nal negligence ... the remedy as they see it is a change of cabinets, not of 
regimes . . . Others will make the revolution. The soldiers who are drift- 
ing around the city in little groups, and who are growing increasingly aware 
of their power, form the hard core of the movement that is develop- 
ing. . . 

By the time the Dutch professor got back to his hotel, late in the night 
of March 12-13, armored cars manned by insurgents were dashing through 
the streets, incessantly blazing away with their machine guns mostly at 
random, it seemed to him. Scattered firing could be heard all over the city, 
there was a ruddy glow in the sky from burning buildings, and the situation 
appeared to be wholely chaotic. 

In reality an embryonic revolutionary authority was already beginning to 
take shape, and even to impose a recognizable, if loose, pattern on events. 
Its geographical focal point was the vast neo-classic Tauride Palace, built 
by Catherine's lover Potemkin, in the northeast corner of the capital, con- 
veniently situated between the barracks of the insurgent regiments on one 
side and the Vyborg workers, just across the frozen Neva, on the other. 
The incongruous structure with its cupola and marble columns had housed 
the Imperial Duma, before becoming the general headquarters of the rev- 
olution. The Duma itself, or at least its principal members, had joined the 
rebellion on March 11, by defying an Imperial decree of prorogation. In- 
stead of disbanding, the deputies had on the following day set up a so- 
called Emergency Committee, chaired by the Duma's President, the portly, 
Conservative M. V. Rodzianko, and consisting of the chief Progressive 
Bloc leaders Milyukov, Lvov, Guchkov, Basil Shulgin, et al plus a left- 
wing maverick, the former Revolutionary Socialist Alexander Kerensky. 
We are so used to thinking of him as the Kerensky of the Russian Revolu- 
tion, that we tend to forget he was really its Danton. A lean, tense, jerky 
man with short-cut hair and the sharp beak of a high-minded cormorant, 
Kerensky, despite his subsequent reputation, had exceptional energy and 


courage, and he was the greatest soap-box orator in Russia (certainly with 
Trotsky in America). The situation was made to order for him (and he, 
alas, for it). 

The revolutionary crowd instinctively drifted to the Duma, the nearest 
thing to an opposition forum in Czarist Russia, seeking news, inspiration, 
and instructions. Kerensky was prodigal with all three. He alone of the 
Duma Committee was in his element receiving the impromptu delegations 
of battle-stained, disheveled soldiers, of red-eyed, grim-featured workers 
and of hysterical students who milled around the lobbies of the Tauride Pal- 
ace, shouting, sweating, gesticulating, brandishing weapons, and spitting 
on the floor. Between inspirational harangues he would dart into the crowd 
to rescue with his own hands some elderly, terrified general, countess, or 
ex-minister whom the revolution had dragged in, like a cat with a crippled 
bird in its mouth. (Protopopov, found hiding at his tailor's, was narrowly 
saved from lynching by Kerensky's intervention.) Everyone was quaffing 
down great draughts of raw history, the most intoxicating kind. 

At the same time and in the same place that the Duma Committee began 
functioning as the supreme executive of the revolution the Russian gen- 
ius for purposive chaos was illustrated by the establishment of a rival au- 
thority: a resurrection of the 1905 workers' soviet. A handful of socialist 
intellectuals, meeting in one of the caucus rooms of the Tauride Palace, set 
themselves up as its organizing nucleus, and so called on the revolutionary 
organizations to name their delegates. In response to this appeal about 50 
rather summarily chosen workers and some 20 soldiers showed up at the 
Tauride Palace on the evening of March 12. While the Duma Emergency 
Committee was sitting in one wing of the building the workers' and the 
soldiers' "delegates" met in another and set up a Central Executive Com- 
mittee of all the Soviets few of which were yet elected. This body, whose 
name was soon shortened to Ex Com, started out with some 20 members 
but gradually swelled by co-option to nearly 100. Its chairman was the 
Menshevik leader, Nicholas Chkeidze, and its political coloration was 
more Menshevik (orthodox Social Democrat) than anything else, but it also 
included Revolutionary Socialists, Bolsheviks among them such subse- 
quently well-known figures as V. M. Molotov, and A. G. Shlyapnikov 
and a sprinkling of miscellaneous radicals or progressives. One of these 
was Kerensky, who thus had a foot in both camps. 

The Ex Com theoretically represented the proletarian revolution; but it 
was pink, not red. It was dedicated to socialism as St. Augustine in his 
younger days was dedicated to chastity: ardently, but not yet. In accord- 
ance with orthodox Marxist doctrine it took the view that the bourgeois 
would have to complete their revolution before the workers could take 
over, hence it was generally content to leave the formal responsibilities of 
power to the Duma Committee-or to its successor the Provisional Govern- 


ment but from the first it systematically competed with the bourgeois au- 
thority by issuing direct orders to the workers and even to the revolutionary 
soldiers. Russian democracy was born a two-headed monster; its chances 
of survival were almost non-existent from the start. 

On March 12, 1917, however, the adversaries of the regime, though by 
no means unaware of the long-term difficulties that lay ahead of them, had 
their hands full with those of the moment. The Imperial government still 
held a redoubt in the administrative heart of the capital; outlying garrisons 
that theoretically were loyal to the autocracy ringed the city; the Czarina 
was safe in Tsarskoe Selo (by March 12 she was so busy looking after her 
children who had all come down with measles that she had litfle time for 
suppressing the revolution, but the revolutionists were not aware of this); 
the Czar was at Headquarters nominally in command of all his armies. It 
was hard for anyone to realize after only five days of intermittent street 
turmoil in Petrograd that the iron despotism of the Romanovs was totter- 
ing, that its foundations had, in fact, already collapsed. In the context of 
the seemingly undecided revolutionary struggle, the bicephalous executive 
at the Tauride Palace had its uses. The Duma Committee reassured fence- 
sitters in the army or the civil service and it represented something to opin- 
ion throughout the nation; the Ex Com of the Soviets had more influence 
over the insurgent workers and mutinous soldiers of the capital. By co- 
operating, after a fashion, the two bodies on March 13 succeeded in con- 
solidating their victory and in restoring a semblance of order in Petrograd. 
The government had collapsed, General Khabalov had abandoned the Ad- 
miralty, and only a small group of officers barricaded in the Hotel Astoria 
were still holding out against the forces of the revolution* 

The last hope of the regime vanished on March 14 when a task force 
which on the Czar's orders had set out by rail from Moghilev three days 
earlier stalled on the outskirts of Petrograd, demonstrating that the rising 
had ceased to be a local affair. The commander of the force, General Nich- 
olas I. Ivanov, a bluff, sensible old soldier, long in disgrace for suspected 
disrespect of Rasputin, had been promised four regiments from the front 
for stamping out the revolt in Petrograd. He entrained from Headquarters 
with his staff and an incomplete bataillon of elite troops but the trip, which 
normally took 24 hours, proved both slower and more tumultuous than he 
had expected. Informed at one of the main junctions on his route that on 
the previous day March 11 a trainload of soldiers from Petrograd had 
mutinied in the station and seized their officer's weapons, General Ivanov 
decided to police all trains arriving from the capital whenever he had the 
opportunity. One soon arose. A train pulled in, packed with soldiers, some 
of them brandishing weapons, others proudly showing off new civilian 
clothes, obviously looted from some provincial store. Suddenly, the Gen- 
eral, inspecting one of the wagons, found himself face to face with a soldier 


wearing an officer's sword strapped around his waist and holding one in 
each hand. "On your knees," he roared, putting his hand on the man's 
shoulder and shoving downward. The same technique had enabled Ivanov 
to check a riot between soldiers and sailors many years earlier, but the times 
had evidently changed. The mutineer sank to his knees as ordered; at the 
same time he also sank his teeth in the General's hand. Ivanov could have 
had the man shot, but as he later explained to a commission of inquiry, to 
do so would have been to "pour fuel on the flame." 

While the officer-foiter was being locked up in the baggage compartment, 
another train arrived from the direction of Petrograd and Ivanov was in- 
trigued to see a group of soldiers who had clambered off it tossing their 
caps in the air. "As I came up to them," he testified, "I heard them shout- 
ing: 'Freedom,* 'Now everyone is equal,' TSTo more superiors, no more 
authority.' I saw several officers, surrounded by common soldiers. 'Gentle- 
men,' I said, 'what has got into you?' Seeing them look shame-faced I gave 
the same order: 'On your knees.' Immediately they all dropped to their 

Having locked up several ringleaders and recovered some stolen arms, 
General Ivanov resumed his voyage, but the nearer he got to the capital, the 
more unsettled conditions became. Somewhere along the way the chaos 
swallowed up the four front-line regiments that he had been promised in 
Moghilev. On arrival at Tsarskoe Selo, General Ivanov found the little 
town abandoned by its garrison and learned that the Czar's ministers had 
been arrested in Petrograd. To try to fight his way into the capital with his 
understrength bataUlon would, he concluded, merely lead to useless blood- 
shed, and so he notified Headquarters. After a rather unsatisfactory consul- 
tation with the Czarina, whom he found bewildered by the ingratitude of 
her husband's subjects, Ivanov, who like many high-ranking professional 
soldiers, seemed dutiful but hardly zealous in defending the regime, en- 
trained again with his troops on an aimless ramble among the outer sub- 
urbs. For some reason he had not considered it necessary to reinforce the 
Imperial Family's guard at the Alexander Palace. The next day the Im- 
perial Escort Regiment, which was responsible for their safety, deserted to 
the revolution. (The Duma, however, sent delegates to assure their pro- 

On March 15, one week after the start of the Petrograd rising which 
despite the occasional violence of the clashes had cost only some 1500 
Eves the Duma's Emergency Committee transformed itself into a Provi- 
sional Government. Prince Lvov was named Premier, Milyukov, For- 
eign Minister, and Kerensky, Minister of Justice. The new government 
called on civil and military authorities throughout the nation to honor its 
decrees. One of the earliest to respond was the Czar's first cousin, Grand 


Duke Cyril, who at the head of his Marine Guards marched to the Tauride 
Palace and pledged his allegiance. 

As if in retaliation, the Red Ex Com on the same day broadcasts its sub- 
sequently famous "Order Number 1" to the armed forces of the nation, 
proclaiming that in all political matters they were under the authority of 
the Petrograd Soviet or of the local soldiers' committees that were begin- 
ning to spring up and instructing the troops to obey only such orders of the 
Duma as were not in conflict with those of the Soviet. The order also abol- 
ished saluting and laid down the principle that weapons should be in the 
keeping of the soldiers' committees instead of in that of the officers. Thus 
chaos was institutionalized. 

The Provisional Government and the Ex Com were agreed that Nicholas 
must abdicate, but whereas the Ex Com-and the whole Soviet-were de- 
termined to abolish the monarchy at once, most of the new ministers origi- 
nally wanted to save it in some modified form under a different monarch* 
To this end Milyukov drew up for the Czar's signature an act of abdication 
in favor of the 12-year old Czarevitch, with the boy's uncle, Grand Duke 
Michael, named as Regent. Without waiting for the approval of all col- 
leaguesor even for the Provisional Government, to be officially proclaimed 
a two-man delegation consisting of the new War Minister, Guchkov, and 
the Conservative Deputy, Basil Shulgin, set out from Petrograd early on 
March 15 to get the Czar's signature on this document. 

Nothing in Russian or in world history proves that the attempt to save 
the monarchy was foredoomed, but in the context of the moment it was 
clearly a delicate operation. It could only have succeeded if the Russian 
monarchists had all been agreed on what to do, and if they had displayed 
a rare combination of toughness and political adroitness in doing it. Also 
they needed some co-operation from the Romanovs starting with Nicholas. 
In the event, none of these conditions was realized. 

Nicholas met the supreme crisis of his life with the same mixture of dig- 
nity, fortitude, and apathy that he had exhibited in all the lesser ones. He 
had started out with his suite from Moghilev for Tsarskoe Selo a short time 
after General Ivanov's departure, and his special train had finally been 
blocked in the railroad yards of Pskov, an ancient town a little more than 
halfway to the capital. It was there, in his office-sleeping-car, that he re- 
ceived the two emissaries from Petrograd on the evening of March 15. He 
greeted them with his usual grave, imperturbable courtesy, and sat down 
with them around a little table while an aide took notes on the conversation. 
Guchkov tried to explain as tactfully as possible the reasons that made an 
abdication imperative. He might have saved his breath. Nicholas had al- 
ready received concerted telegrams from most of the army leaders including 
his uncle, Grand Duke Nicholas, commanding on the Caucasus front, urg- 
ing his abdication, and he had even sent off a reply indicating his assent 


On the insistence of his entourage this telegram had been held up-or at 
least an attempt had been made to hold it up but the incident merely 
reflected his normal tendency to vacillate in the face of any decision. When 
Guchkov concluded by offering to retire while the Czar reflected in private 
before giving his answer, Nicholas brushed aside the suggestion. "I have 
already reflected," he said, "and I have decided to abdicate." 

The two deputies were shocked by the Czar's apparent indifference to his 
fate and could not believe that he fully grasped the implications of his 

"It was all too simple, too normal," Guchkov reported later. "The Em- 
peror did not appear to realize the tragic nature of the scene." 

It was only when Nicholas alluded to the future of the little Czarevitch 
that his voice betrayed some emotion, and it was only in regard to this 
question that he made any difficulties. He would not agree to the child 
being named Czar since this would imply that his parents could no longer 
be near him, day and night, to watch over his fragile health. The attitude 
was understandable enough in a loving father, but it was nonetheless a 
flagrant betrayal of the dynasty credo that was bound to accentuate con- 
fusion among the supporters of the monarchy. Guchkov and Shulgin real- 
ized that any change in the Milyukov formula was tactically dangerous, but 
they eventually yielded to Nicholas' gentle obstinacy. "In agreement with 
the Imperial Duma we have thought it good to abdicate from the throne of 
the Russian State and to lay down the supreme power," read the final 
text of the abdication act as amended by Nicholas. "Not wishing to part 
with our dear son we hand over our inheritance to our brother, the Grand 
Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give him our blessing to mount the 
throne of the Russian State." 

By the time Guchkov and Shulgin got back to Petrograd-on the morning 
of March 16 the outcome of their mission was known in the capital. The 
Soviet was adamant against any attempt to preserve the monarchy and 
opinion in the Provisional Government was hardening against the idea. A 
conference was already under way at the Grand Duke's palace to decide 
whether he should accept the throne. All the ministers were present, as was 
the President of the Duma, Rodzianko. Guchkov and Shulgin, after shaking 
off a delegation of indignant workers, drove straight from the station to 
join them. Kerensky led the faction urging Michael to refuse the throne; 
Milyukov and Guchkov pleaded for at least conditional acceptance. The 
latter proposed specifically that the Grand Duke should reign until the 
election of a constituent assembly which would freely decide on a perma- 
nent regime for the country. The formula, at least in theory, had real merit; 
ft would have rallied the officers, the big industrialists and most of the 
nobility to the support of the Provisional Government and possibly would 
have given it greater prestige in the eyes of the muzhiks. Most of the liberals, 


who bad earlier favored some such solution, now were opposed to it how- 
ever; they feared an open break, perhaps an armed clash, with the Soviets. 
The argument raged for hours, confused and emotional, at moments al- 
most hysterical few of the participants had enjoyed a whole night's sleep 
for a week while the Grand Duke, a tall, frail, youthful-looking man 
known in quieter times mainly for his love of horses, sat in an armchair 
listening attentively, occasionally putting in a question, seldom offering a 
comment. Finally, he asked to be excused and retired to a little study ad- 
joining his drawing room for some solitary reflection. It was soon inter- 
rupted by Rodzianko and Prince Lvov, both proponents of abdication, who 
followed the Grand Duke into his study. The brief, three-way exchange, 
that followed was decisive for the fate of the dynasty, at least in a formal 
sense. After a few minutes the Grand Duke, looking sad but composed, 
returned to the drawing room and announced his decision. He would ac- 
cept the throne if it should some day be offered to him by a constituent as- 
sembly, but in the meantime he would abdicate. The instrument of this 
curious and, as it were, provisional abdication, which nonetheless prejudged 
the future of the monarchy, was soon drafted and signed. Thus came to an 
end the 300-year reign of the Romanovs. Unlike the wooden ceremony in 
the railway carriage at Pskov, the previous evening, it was at least marked 
by some flashes of human drama. "Monseigneur, you are the noblest of 
men," Kerensky exclaimed when the Grand Duke announced his intention 
to abdicate. "I cannot follow you along the path you have chosen," Guch- 
kov warned his colleagues, his poise breaking. "You are pushing the coun- 
try to its ruin." 

Non-Communist Russian historians have been arguing ever since about 
whether that "Fatal Third of March" March 16 by the new calendar as 
Basil Maklakov terms it, signed the death warrant of Russia's new-born 
democracy. Both the monarchists and the anti-monarchists have some 
cogent arguments. Perhaps the truth lies not so much between them as be- 
yond them. The course of the Russian revolution after March 1917 was 
influenced at least as much by forces bearing upon it from outside Russia as 
by those seeking to guide it from within; essentially it was tributary to the 
deeper, vaster, increasingly violent crisis of civilization unleashed by the 
war itself* 


The Age of the Witch Doctor 


March 23, 1917, exactly one week after the conference 
in Petrograd that had led Grand Duke Michael to re- 
nounce the throne of Russia, there took place near Vienna a much more 
intimate and secret meeting which had no direct connection with the 
Russian situation but which potentially was of crucial importance to its 
development. The setting was a living room in the old Habsburg castle of 
Laxenburg, a few miles south of the Austrian capital, at the unusual hour 
of six on a dark and snowy morning. Initially only four persons were pres- 
ent: the Emperor Karl Francis Joseph had died four months earlier a 
slender man of twenty-nine with a trim mustache, whose handsome fea- 
tures habitually wore a look of slightly timid earnestness; his wife, the 
Empress Zita, four years younger, dark-eyed and beautiful in a strong- 
minded way; and her brothers the Princes Sixtus and Xavier of Bourbon- 
Parma, who looked like what in normal times they were: two elegant 
young Parisian men about town. Zita had not seen her brothers, for whom 
she had considerable affection, since 1914; her country of adoption and 
theirs were at war with each other. The Bourbon-Parmas were a charac- 
teristically cosmopolitan European family of royal descent; Zita, nominally 
an Italian princess had naturally acquired Austro-Hungarian nationality 
(if it could be called that), while Sixtus and Xavier lived in France and con- 
sidered themselves French. Debarred by the law of the Third Republic 
because of the Bourbon taint from serving in the French Army, they had 
enlisted as stretcher-bearers in the forces of their cousin, Albert, King of the 
Belgians, and eventually risen to the rank of second lieutenant. The some- 
what conspiratorial-seeming encounter over the ersatz coffee in the medie- 
val chill of Laxenburg castle was a family reunion; in the circumstances of 
the day it would have been rather moving even if it had been nothing but 


that. Of course it also had a broader significance. This was Old World 
diplomacy once more and doubtless for the last time at its Old Worldli- 
est, though perhaps not at its worst. 

The new Habsburg Emperor was neither a philosopher-king nor a man 
of iron; he was a decent, fairly sensible, intensely civilized young Central 
European who retained the supranational outlook of his ancestors but had 
shed much of the anachronistic feudalism that had still colored it in the 
re ; gn of his great uncle, Francis Joseph. Like his deceased uncle Francis 
Ferdinand, Karl was fervently dedicated both to the Dynasty and to the 
Empire; again like Francis Ferdinand he was intelligent enough to see that 
preserving the former implied liberalizing the latter. Unlike either his uncle 
or his great uncle, however, Karl was not much of a military man; he hated 
war and he realized that unless there was an early end to the ghastly and 
calamitous conflict, which the folly of the Austro-Hungarian government 
itself had done so much to launch, there would be an end to the Empire. 
The problem was how to get Austria out of the war. He had often wrestled 
with it as hen: to the throne, while indulging in his favorite recreation of 
pushing the latest of his frequently recurring offspring around the park of 
Schoenbrunn in a perambulator. Any Austrian initiative aimed at exploring 
the possibilities of a compromise peace through the customary diplomatic 
or paradiplomatic channels would, Karl knew, immediately be scotched at 
the outset by the Dual Monarchy's implacable German allies. Peace could 
not be sought honestly and directly; it had to be conspired 

Immediately after his coronation Karl began to hatch his peace plot. It 
was not, perhaps, strictly honest toward his allies though he does not ap- 
pear to have contemplated a separate peace that would have abandoned 
Germany to her fate and it was extremely dangerous, politically and even 
personally. Nonetheless the young Emperor, encouraged and probably 
spurred on by his wife, who was particularly susceptible to Vatican influ- 
ence, determined to make the try. He decided to use his brothers-in-law as 
unofficial agents for approaching the Entente leaders, and got in touch with 
them through family channels. In due course they were provided with false 
papers, smuggled into Austria from Switzerland, and secretly brought to 
Laxenburg. Their mission was by no means a safe or comfortable one, as 
the two young princes had pointed out to their sister, but they had yielded 
in the end to her passionate entreaty: "Think of all the poor men who are 
in the living hell of the trenches, and who are being killed by the hundreds 
daily, and come." 

The whole affair was intensely romantic and amateurish, but it was not 
irresponsible. Sixtus and Xavier had insisted on clearing their mission with 
the French government before agreeing to undertake it, and had had several 
interviews with President Poincar6 and Prime Minister Aristide Briand, the 
latter of whom had definitely encouraged them. Karl had taken his Foreign 


Minister, Count Czernin, into his confidence (though not, unfortunately, 
completely). Czernin, tall, thin, pale, wearing the expression of an under- 
taker about to view the body, joined the youthful peace plotters at the end 
of their private conversation and lectured them on some of the pitfalls in 
their path; the lecture was chilling but useful. At the close of a second con- 
ference on the evening of the same day Czernin gave the two princes a note 
drafted with professional care and consequently limited to platitudes- 
setting forth the position of the Austro-Hungarian government as the basis 
for ulterior official peace negotiations. Karl, without informing Czernin, 
slipped them a handwritten letter to be shown to Poincare which was a 
great deal more explicit. In this letter, written in elegant if not quite fault- 
less French, the young Emperor offered to use all of his personal influence 
with his German allies to persuade them to accept the "just French claims" 
to Alsace-Lorraine a dramatic offer in the context of the time and pro- 
posed as further basis for a general peace the evacuation of all Belgian 
territory and the restoration of Serbian sovereignty, subject to Serbian 
undertakings to suppress Pan-Serb agitation on its soil. Karl even evoked 
the possibility of granting Serbia an outlet on the Adriatic. 

The letter created a sensation in Paris. Briand's successor as Premier, 
Alexandre Ribot, promptly informed the British of the new development. 
"This is peace," exclaimed Prime Minister David Lloyd George after a talk 
with Ribot early in April. The prospect was a thrilling one. There was no 
crystal ball in which the Allied statesmen could read the future; even the 
most perceptive could hardly be expected to foresee in detail the infernal 
chain reaction of catastrophes that Karl's peace offer at least stood a chance 
of interrupting: the Bolshevization of Russia, the Balkanization of Central 
Europe, the ffitlerization of Germany, the Anschluss and the rape of the 
Sudetenland, war and revolution all over again and the iron curtain cut- 
ting the heart of Europe in two. Yet the end of the nightmare in the trenches 
was exciting enough in itself, and though the Western leaders could not fore- 
tell what was going to happen in Russia they were already seriously worried 
about what might happen there; a few of them Briand for one even had 
time for an occasional faint twinge of apprehension about what might 
follow the break-up of the Habsburg Empire. Thus the initial French and 
English reaction to the Austrian peace feeler was positive, if cautious; it 
was decided to sound out the Entente's allies, Italy and Rumania (the Rus- 
sians were too enmeshed in their own revolution to count for much in the 
international picture) without revealing the full circumstances of the Bour- 
bon Panna mission. Karl on his side demonstrated the sincerity of his offer 
by attempting to soften up the Germans, particularly on the subject of 
Alsace-Lorraine. Without admitting his approach to the Entente, Karl 
stressed Austria's urgent need for peace and warned his allies that the im- 
pending American intervention in the war would be fatal to the cause of 


the Central Powers. Peace without victory was therefore preferable to de- 
feat. Czernin was instructed to hint at the possibility of ceding a slice of 
Austrian Galicia to Germany if the latter would give up Alsace-Lorraine, or 
part of it, in an eventual general settlement. 

For perhaps a month there seemed a real chance that something might 
come of all the peace talk. Then the obstacles began to pile up. The Ger- 
mans were totally unresponsive to Karl's insinuations. "You have been 
listening to your womenfolk again," Wilhelm sneered after a private talk 
between the two emperors at Bad Homburg early in April. When Ribot 
learned of this conversation his previous enthusiasm for negotiations began 
to flag. The Rumanian, and particularly the Italian attitude, proved even 
graver snags. These former allies (or clients) of Germany had been en- 
ticed into the war on the side of the Entente with secret treaties promising 
them lavish spoils from the Habsburg Empire. (There were other secret 
treaties at the expense of Turkey promising the Dardanelles to Russia, 
Palestine to the Arabs and the Jews Syria to the French and the Arabs.) 
Karl had been extremely generous with Alsace-Lorraine, which did not 
belong to him; he was less forthcoming in offering to satisfy Italian and 
Rumanian greed out of his own inheritance. 

Eventually the hope for peace faded away, after reviving intermittently 
throughout the rest of 1917. There was a brief renewal of optimism when 
Germany showed some initial interest in peace proposals submitted by 
Pope Benedict XV, but nothing came of the move. The final result of Karl's 
well-intentioned attempt to save Europe was, as we shall see in a later 
chapter, merely to precipitate the destruction of the Habsburg Empire. 
Some historians put the blame on the lack of resolution that they detect 
beneath the young Emperor's good intentions. Others denounce Italian 
rapacity, French pettifogging or German militarism. It is even possible to 
make a case against President Wilson as one of the chief culprits, by omis- 
sion; certainly if he had been better informed and more open-minded about 
the political situation both in Austria-Hungary and in Russia, he could 
have made the world safer for democracy at less than it finally cost the 
people of the United States, by putting his moral authority and potential 
military power in 1917 behind the move for a compromise peace. (Wilson 
in December 1916 had urged the belligerents to state their wax aims as a 
basis for possible negotiations and Karl's letter was thoroughly in keeping 
with the spirit of the proposal.) 

The fact is that by the spring of 1917 no individual leader and no single 
nation could be held accountable for sabotaging the chance of peace, be- 
cause the war-making machinery in every countiy had for all practical 
purpose escaped from human control. Though all the belligerent nations 
except America, which was just entering the war, and Russia, which was 
half out of it had become virtual dictatorships, power was not held in any 


of them by a true dictator, or even by military oligarchies. In a sense, it 
was not wielded by men at all, but by the administrative mechanisms 
which existed or had been specially created to institutionalize the national 
will to victory, and by the multiple, deeply entrenched, special interests that 
had crystallized around them* Certain of these mechanisms which played 
an important role in the breakdown of the 1917 peace talks are also of 
special significance from the viewpoint of the present book. Though by no 
means new, they operated on a scale that the world had never seen up to 
that time, and the revolutionary upheavals that marked the last two years 
of the war, as well as those which occurred after the Armistice, cannot be 
fully understood without taking them into account 

Two world wars and a decade of cold war between the West and the 
Communist-bloc nations have made us all familiar with the miscellaneous 
manipulations and unpleasantnesses that for purposes of administrative or 
journalistic convenience are lumped under such headings as "psychological 
warfare" or "political warfare." (The two terms, at least in official usage, 
are loosely synonymous, the former being preferred in the United States, 
the latter in Britain, Like the French equivalent, action psychologique, they 
are catch-all designations covering a variable but wide spectrum of ac- 
tivities ranging from propaganda to the fomenting and support of revolu- 
tionary movements and certain aspects of guerrilla warfare.) The words 
are relatively new, and so of course are some of the techniques, but the 
basic tactical patterns go back to the dawn of human history. Indeed, they 
go even farther. The whir of the rattlesnake, the cry of the howler monkey, 
are forms of psychological warfare. So are the war whoops of the American 
Indian, the jeers and boasting of the Homeric warrior, the spells and in- 
cantations of the primitive witch doctor. Throughout the ages what the 
French quaintly call "St. George's Cavalry" i.e. bribing the troops or gen- 
erals of one's enemy to betray their causehas been the indispensable 
auxiliary of nearly every great conqueror; it was the golden charges of this 
legendary brigade that won the battle of Valmy, the first great military 
victory of the French Revolution, rather than the valor of its conscript 
citizen-soldiers. Long before Hitler's propaganda chief, Dr. Joseph Goeb- 
bels, Napoleon had made good use of the printed propaganda tract as a 
weapon of war. It was a native fifth column organized by John Paul Jones 
that really secured the shores of Tripoli for the U. S. Marines, and the em- 
ployment of similar political warfare techniques by President James K. 
Polk helped them reach the halls of Montezuma. 

During the first world conflict, however, these black arts of war (and of 
diplomacy) were practiced so systematically and on such an unprecedented 
scale that they virtually constituted a new dimension of warfare. For the 
first time in history, elaborate specialized machinery was set up to furnish 


unorthodox support to the conventional operations of armies, foreign of- 
fices, and police departments. That peculiar modern phenomenon, the psy- 
chological (or political) warrior the militarized version of the advertising 
man or public relations expert and the bureaucratic cousin of the profes- 
sional revolutionary was born. 

At the beginning of the war the emphasis, at least in the propaganda 
field, was defensive rather than offensive, and focused on the home front 
(in itself a new concept). There were several reasons for this. One was the 
increased importance of the economic factor in warfare, which made the 
morale of the farmer and of the industrial worker a matter of high strategic 
concern. Another, as we have already noted, was the unheard-of strains to 
which the front-line soldier himself was subjected. And underlying the 
problem of morale, civilian or military, was the gradually developing im- 
pact of the romantic and revolutionary eighteenth-century affirmation of 
the individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Profes- 
sor Harold A. Lasswell remarks in his classic work, Propaganda Technique 
in the World War, "propaganda is a concession to the willfullness of the 
age." In the twentieth century or at least in its first decade men could no 
longer simply be ordered to give up their right to private happiness at a rul- 
er's whim; they had to be persuaded. The spread of literacy and the de- 
velopment of rapid mass means of communication facilitated the task of 
persuasion. Naturally though at first glance paradoxically the worst prop- 
aganda excesses were committed in the Western democracies, where the 
common man was, in Lasswell's terminology, the most ' 

One type of Western morale-building propaganda which proved to be 
particularly self-defeating and even traumatic in the long view was the 
abusive appeal to the latent idealism of the masses through slogans such 
as The War to End War (originally inspired by H. G. Wells) and Make 
the World Safe for Democracy (derived from President Wilson's message 
to Congress of April 2, 1917). No doubt the politicians who thus ex- 
ploited the hopes of their peoples with these high-sounding but demagogic 
pledges of a better world were the first victims of their own propaganda; 
the unending wonder, when we look back upon it, is how intelligent and 
cultivated men including a trained historian could ever have deluded 
themselves into believing that prolonging the sordid massacre in Europe 
would make it possible to build a better world. The apathy and skepticism 
of the Western masses a generation later, when confronted with Hitler's 
naked threat to the survival of their most elementary freedoms, can be 
traced in good measure to the overdoses of war medicine that the new 
witch doctors had brewed for their fathers between 1914 and 1918. 

Even more deadly in its ultimate effects than the propaganda of mis- 
directed idealism was the propaganda of hate. Again the democracies were 


the worst offenders. In France a kind of forgery mill, supported by secret 
government funds, ground out fake photographs of German atrocities to 
back up the no-less cold-bloodedly fabricated news reports of Belgian 
babies with their hands wantonly hacked off, of women with their breasts 
cut off by German bayonets or sabers, of factories for making soap out of 
human corpses. The British were a trifle more subtle, but hardly more 
scrupulous in exposing the outrages of the savage "Hun" (an epithet 
originally inspired by the Kaiser's unfortunate address to his marines at the 
time of the Boxer Rebellion in China) . Twenty years later the scars left on 
the public mind by this wartime atrocity propagandawhich of course was 
speedily exposed after the fighting endedwere still so inflamed, that Ameri- 
can newspaper correspondents in Europe had the greatest difficulty in per- 
suading their editors to print authenticated reports of authentic Nazi 

As the war advanced the propaganda activity of the chief belligerent 
powers became increasingly intensive and organized. The British eventually 
set up a full-fledged Ministry of Information, under a magnate of the popu- 
lar press, Lord Beaverbrook. Propaganda to Enemy Countries was a 
semi-autonomous service under Beaverbrook's rival, Lord Northcliffe. 
Within a few days of America's entry in the war, President Wilson estab- 
lished a Committee of Public Information, under the chairmanship of 
George Creel, a well-known U.S. journalist, with sole responsibility for 
propaganda work both at home and abroad, and with censorship functions 
as well. The French, Germans, and Italians favored a less co-ordinated but 
no less active form of organization. In all the belligerent countries the propa- 
ganda bureaus worked more or less closely with the General Staff, with the 
military censors, with the secret police and intelligence services and with an 
extensive volunteer (sometimes covertly subsidized) network of journal- 
ists, writers and politicians. The end result was a series of what amounted 
to immense and immensely powerful lobbies with a vested interest in fight- 
ing the war to the bitter end; the remorseless pressure of these bellicose 
lobbies on both the German and the Entente governments seems to have 
been a substantive factor in blocking the movement for a compromise peace 
that was launched so promisingly by the Emperor Karl in March 1917. 

The political warfare activities of the several belligerents, aimed at de- 
moralizing or splitting up their enemies, were an even greater impediment 
to peace negotiations. The stalemate in the trenches facilitated the distribu- 
tion of defeatist propaganda by such crude means as scattering leaflets over 
the enemy fines from a low-flying airplane; it likewise spurred the search for 
some diplomatic or political substitute for a decisive military breakthrough. 
As the deadlock continued each side became increasingjy irresponsible and 
unscrupulous in attempting to foment revolution behind the enemy's front 
Every racial or religious minority, every disaffected social category became 


the target of subversive incitements and appeals. Every group hatred, fear, 
or greed was played upon; every irredentist ambition was encouraged. 
Generally, it was only the most extreme minority leaders who would accept 
to work for, or with, the enemies of their nominal fatherland. Sometimes, 
however, the heavy-handed repressiveness of the wartime dictatorshipsor 
hatred of the war itself drove previously responsible and moderate mi- 
nority leadership into collaborating with the enemy; in such cases it in- 
evitably turned extremist, and in the process sometimes succeeded in com- 
mitting its new allies to more radical objectives than they had originally 

The career of Thomas G. Masaryk, the son of a Bohemian coachman 
who became the founder and first President of the Czechoslovak Republic, 
was a case in point. Before the war Masaryk's hard-bitten peasant face 
adorned with the obligatory professorial goatee, was a familiar landmark in 
both the cultural and the political life of the Habsburg Empire. He was 
professor of philosophy at the Universities of Prague and Vienna, and the 
author of distinguished works in several intellectual fields. He was also the 
outstanding political leader of the Czech national minority and its most 
effective spokesman in the Austrian parliament. His unadorned but solidly 
constructed and impressively documented speeches flailed the Emperor's 
ministers without mercy; he was a sharp critic of the Dual Monarchy's for- 
eign policy and a muckraker of dishonesty or oppression in its treatment 
of the subject peoples. Masaryk, who had married an American woman, 
the former Charlotte Garrigue, was a convinced democrat as well as a 
Czech nationalist, but up to the outbreak of war he had served the Em- 
peror as a chief of his loyal opposition. 

When war came and the Czech people was dragooned to fight under the 
Habsburg flag against its Slav brothers in Serbia and Russia, the loyalty 
of even the most moderate Czech nationalists was strained to the breaking 
point. An underground resistance movement took form in Prague and Ma- 
saryk was chosen to be its standard bearer abroad. In December 1914, at 
the age of sixty-five, the respected philosopher-politician escaped into 
Switzerland and embarked on a new career as a revolutionary conspira- 
tor. He was soon joined by a younger and slightly more radical nationalist 
colleague, Eduard Benes, a thirty-year-old professor of sociology at the 
University of Prague whose name was later to be identified both with the 
proudest and with the most tragic occasions in modern Czech history. 

Polarized by repression and by the imperatives of the conspiratorial 
struggle, the Czech nationalist movement became the Czech independence 
movement and eventually the Czecho-Slovak independence movement 
and steadily hardened against any compromise with the oppressor power. 
Soon the complete dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire be- 
came the explicit, unwavering ftim of the 6migr6 organization headed by 


Masaryk and Benes. In 1915 they moved to Paris and with the blessing of 
the Entente founded a Czech National Committee. Counseled by several 
distinguished French and British historians and journalists, turned political 
warriors, the Czech emigres threw themselves with enthusiasm into the task 
of subverting the Austro-Hungarian armies. They drafted surrender leaflets 
to be showered on the regiments of conscripts from Bohemia and from 
Hungarian-ruled Slovakia, they co-ordinated the work of the underground 
spy rings or passive resistance networks, they indoctrinated and trained 
Czech prisoners of war. Their success was spectacular, particularly on the 
Russian front By the end of the war they claimed to have induced the de- 
sertion of some 400,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers of Czech, Slovak, or 
other Slav origin, while in the army of Archduke Frederick alone, more 
than 12,000 soldiers were hanged for attempted desertion. A number of 
the Czecho-Slovak deserters or prisoners of war enrolled in the Czech le- 
gions that were organized to fight on the side of the Allies both in the West 
and on the eastern front. The Czech Legion in Russia was particularly im- 
portant; by the time of the Russian revolution it numbered some 40,000 
well-equipped fighting men; it was to play a role in the Russian civil war. 

The genius for political warfare displayed by Masaryk and Benes was not 
exercised solely at the expense of the Central Powers. 

"Independence will not be attained by talking about independence,'* Ma- 
saryk explained to his supporters. "We must induce the Allied governments, 
influential diplomats and politicians, parliamentarians and newspapers to 
associate themselves with our claim. . . . We must convince political Eu- 
rope that this Czech state is necessary, that it is advantageous to the allies 

By the spring of 1917, when the Emperor Karl launched his peace feeler, 
the Western governments were still not quite convinced that a totally in- 
dependent Czech state was either necessary or advantageous. As late as 
January 1918 Lloyd George felt it advisable to specify publicly that the 
breakup of Austria-Hungary was not one of the British war aims, and 
President Wilson echoed this caution in his message to Congress of January 
8, 1918 (the same one that set forth his famous Fourteen Points). 1 Even 
at the time that Ribot and Lloyd George were consulting over Karl's letter, 
however, their diplomatic freedom of maneuver, as far as peace negotia- 
tions with Austria were concerned, was seriously hampered by the Allies' 

iThe Fourteen Points provided Allied political warriors with some of their most 
effective ammunition, but it would be misleading and unjust to consider them primarily 
in this context They constitute one of the basic political texts of our century. More- 
over, despite their liberalism and their stress on the self-determination of peoples 
particularly the Polish people and the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empirethey 
were not inherently incompatible with either the dynastic or the imperial principles. 
Both the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns ultimately attempted to sue for peace on 
the basis of the Fourteen Points, but foolishly waited until then* thrones were already 



tacit commitments to the Czech National Committee. During the rest of 
1917 it steadily dwindled owing to a number of reasons, among which the 
Czech talent for propaganda and behind-the-scenes diplomacy was by no 
means the least. Perhaps the final victory of political warfare over diplo- 
matic prudence and flexibility was the so-called Congress of Oppressed 
Nationalities of Austria-Hungary held in Rome in April 1918. It was at- 
tended by delegates of the Czech and Yugoslav national organizations and 
by representatives of the Polish and Rumanian Transylvanians (Transyl- 
vania, most of which was awarded to Rumania after the war, was a border 
area of mixed population belonging to Hungary). The Congress concluded 
with the announcement of a "common front" of oppressed peoples, dedi- 
cated to the abolition and dismemberment of the Dual Monarchy. Though 
not an official gathering, the Congress had been organized by the now-pow- 
erful anti-Habsburg lobby in the official political warfare services of the 
Allied governments, and its deliberations were heavily publicized by direc- 
tive of their domestic propaganda services. (One of the journalists who 
helped convince public opinion in his country that the Balkanization of 
the whole Danubian Basin would somehow advance the cause of freedom 
and civilization, was a talented, splashy young Italian editor named Benito 
Mussolini, a former firebrand of revolutionary socialism whose conversion 
to the war to make the world safe for bourgeois democracy had been fa- 
cilitated by lavish subsidies from the French secret servicean operation 
which in the light of subsequent history must count among the witch doc- 
tors' more dubious triumphs.) 

While the Habsburg Empire was to be one of the most tragic victims of 
the political warfare that accompanied and prolonged the military con- 
flict of 1914-1918, it was not an innocent victim. As we have seen earlier, 
the Dual Monarchy had launched its own political warfare offensive in the 
Ukraine and in Russian Poland before the assassination at Sarajevo. When 
the shooting started a Polish freedom corps (to use the modern terminol- 
ogy) armed by the Austrians was ready to accompany the spearhead of the 
Austro-German offensive into Russian Galicia. Its commander, Jozef 
Pilsudski, who was to be the first head of the resurrected Polish state, ri- 
valed the talent for conspiratorial organization of his Czech analogues 
(and enemies) Masaryk and Benes, but he was utterly unlike them in 
nearly every other way. A complex, slender catlike man with a small head 
and sensitive gray-blue eyes, Pilsudsfci had something about him that sug- 
gested the artist and the dreamer, but his dreams were often strangely akin 
to other men's nightmares. He had been conspiring almost ever since he 
had started breathing, and even by Russian revolutionary standards was 
considered a ruthless terrorist During the Russo-Japanese War he had 
sougjit the support of the Japanese government for a Polish insurrection 
whether or not he got it is a subject of controversy and his exploits as a 


guerrilla leader during the 1905 revolution had rivaled those of Stalin's 
Caucasian banditti. As might have been expected, the efforts of the Austrian 
and German political warfare service to build him up as a reliable puppet 
of the Central Powers backfired on them. After the Austro-German decla- 
ration of 1916 proclaiming Poland's nominal independence, with virtually 
all of Russian Poland liberated, Pilsudskfs enthusiasm for fighting the 
armies of the Czar rapidly cooled, and from the viewpoint of the Austrians 
and Germans, he became an increasingly cantankerous ally. On various 
pretexts, he entered into contact with the pro-Entente Poles in Russia 
and in France, and began a kind of underground flirtation with the West. 
Eventually he proved such a nuisance to the Germans that Ludendorff had 
him locked up in a fortress. 

Pilsudski was not Ludendorff's sole headache in the area of political war- 
fare. The German witch doctors with the active support of Ludendorff 
himselfmust be credited with what was at once the most brilliant and the 
most calamitously self-defeating operation in the entire history of political 
warfare: the encouragement and support of the Bolshevik Revolution. 

When the victorious United States Army in 1945 stumbled upon the 
cache where the secret files of fhe German Foreign Office had been stored, 
there were several documents going back to the times of the First World 
War that our Soviet Allies would have given a great deal to lay their hands 
on first. One of these items, of outstanding interest to historians was a 
memorandum dated March 9, 1915, setting forth a comprehensive program 
for German political warfare against Czarist Russia. The paper included 
the usual proposals for blowing up bridges and for spreading defeatist prop- 
aganda among Russian conscripts; it urged getting in touch with, and giving 
financial assistance to, most of the socialist opposition and a number of na- 
tional minority organizations (with the exception of the Zionist Jews, whom 
the author of the plan considered "incapable of any political action"). 
More noteworthy was the overriding importance attached to working with 
the emigre leaders of the Russian Bolsheviks, who at the time were gener- 
ally considered in the West as a splinter group of doctrinaire extremists. 
Among eleven specific recommendations for achieving the objectives of the 
program, number one was "Financial support for the majority group of the 
Russian Social Democrats [Bolsheviks], which is fighting the Czarist gov- 
ernment with all the means at its disposal." The broad philosophical sweep 
of the memorandum was likewise striking. 

"Thus," read one specially lofty passage, "the armies of the Central 
Powers and the [Russian] revolutionary movement will shatter the colossal 
political centralization which is the embodiment of the Czarist Empire and 
which will be a danger to world peace for as long as it is allowed to survive, 
and wfll conquer the stronghold of political reaction in Europe." 


Such language is unexpected in a state paper of the German Imperial 
government, not exactly a stronghold of political liberalism or a champion 
of world peace at the time. The mind that framed it clearly had both scope 
and originality. Naturally, for the author of the memorandum was Dr. 
Alexander Helfand, alias Parvus, whom we last heard of as Trotsky's 
right hand in the Petersburg Soviet of 1905. Parvus had his critics, but no 
one has ever accused him of lacking either scope or originality. Before 
explaining how Parvus* prose found its way into the files of the Wilhelm- 
strasse and before recounting what came of his proposals, it may be well 
to sketch briefly the unorthodox personality and career of this colorful 

Parvus was a Russian Jew, born in 1869. He studied in Germany and 
very early joined the German Social Democratic party. He belonged to its 
left wing, headed by Rosa Luxemburg. Though he had contributed to 
Lenin's paper Iskra, Parvus held himself aloof from the Bolshevik-Men- 
shevik quarrel that divided the Russian emigration. His closest friend among 
the Russian revolutionaries was that other maverick, Trotsky, whose theory 
of the permanent revolution Parvus strongly espoused. Trotsky on his side 
had considerable respect for Parvus both as a revolutionary and as an in- 
tellectual. In 1904 Trotsky and his wife, on their way back to Russia, stayed 
with Parvus at the latter^ home in Munich, and Parvus at that time wrote 
a preface to one of Trotsky's monographs. Trotsky describes his friend as 
having a big, fleshy head like a bulldog. Even at that early date Parvus 
dressed with an elegance that was frowned upon in earnest revolutionary 
circles and he had a queer, slightly disreputable foible: he wanted to make 
a lot of money for the revolution, of course. He was the owner of a Mu- 
nich publishing firm that at first did quite well later it proved a failure but 
he had a far more ambitious project in mind: founding a great Marxist 
daily, to be published in three languages. To do that he would obviously 
have to be fabulously rich, and since the revolution could not wait, he had 
to get rich quickly. 

In the 1905 revolution, Parvus' preoccupation with finance helped him 
to draw up an audacious but technically sound scheme for starting a run 
on the Czarist government's gold reserves that came very near to wrecking 
the ruble. With Trotsky, Parvus co-edited an enormously successful left- 
wing daily in St. Petersburg and he probably inspired many of the revo- 
lutionary tactics applied by the Soviet. In the intervals of his conspiratorial 
activity Parvus found time to continue his career as a big-time international 
playboy. The Czar's police when they finally arrested Tiim were baffled to 
discover a book of fifty theater tickets in his pocket. They assumed it was 
in preparation for some kind of outrage: in reality it was just for a little 
party that Parvus was giving. Parvus shared a spell of prison and then of 
Siberian exile with Trotsky, and like him finally escaped to the West. In 


the summer of 1907 he joined the Trotskys for a hiking trip in Saxony. 

Gradually, Parvus seemed to lose interest in the revolutionary cause, 
while his interest in getting rich grew steadily keener. He left Germany with 
some encouragement from the German police and launched into various 
journalistic and financial operations throughout the Balkans. The out- 
break of the war found him in Constantinople, about to realize his dreams 
of fortune, thanks to some contracts on behalf of the German Army. Out- 
raged by the unpatriotic attitude of his former friends in the left wing of 
the German Social Democratic party despite his Russian background 
Parvus by now considered himself a German he broke with them and 
became one of the guiding spirits of the party's right wing. He also offered 
his services to the German Ambassador in Constantinople and was soon 
deeply immersed in smuggling separatist propaganda into the Ukraine, 
launching a pro-German newspaper in Bucharest, and similar enterprises. 
His success in these ventures caused the Wilhelmstrasse to take him seri- 
ously when he submitted through embassy channels suggestions for a more 
ambitious revolutionary offensive against the Russians, and he was in- 
vited to Berlin for a conference. The memorandum which has been cited 
was the first fruit of this meeting. 

Others soon followed. The special section of the German foreign office 
set up under Dr. Diego Bergen (who later served both the Weimar Repub- 
lic and Hitler as German Ambassador to the Vatican) to co-ordinate 
political warfare operations against Russia provided Parvus with a German 
passport and an initial fund of some $250,000 to draw on. (He was soon 
asking for $5,000,000,) It was decided that he would make his headquarters 
in Copenhagen under cover of establishing and directing a scholarly in- 

Before going there Parvus visited Switzerland and talked with a number 
of Russian emigres, including Lenin, The latter treated him with some sus- 
picionin part, according to certain sources because he looked on Parvus 
as a political rival but did not refuse all co-operation. In fact, Lenin en- 
couraged one of his friends to accept the paid job on the staff of Copen- 
hagen "institute" that Parvus offered him. By an interesting coincidence, the 
friend turned out to be the well-connected Polish-Austrian Social Democrat, 
Jacob Fuerstenburg, alias Ganetsky, who before the war had helped obtain 
permission from the Emperor's police authorities for Lenin to settle in 
Galicia. Another trusted friend of Lenin's who worked closely with Parvus 
in Copenhagen was the journalist and noted Marxist theoretician Karl 
Radek, also a subject of the Emperor Francis Joseph, but like Fuerstenburg 
a complete internationalist in outlook and a Bolshevik at heart. Both men 
knew a great deal about Parvus' operations in Russia and kept Lenin 
regularly informed on their progress. Through other channels Lenin was in 
touch for a while with a German secret agent in Stockholm named Kesfcuela, 


an Esthonian emigre and former Marxist revolutionary, who had organized 
a left-wing underground network inside Russia altogether distinct from 
Parvus'. Here we come to the heart of the controversy that has raged for 
nearly half a century as whether Lenin was himself a German "agent." 

The dispute hinges in part upon whether Lenin's associates, Fuerstenburg 
and Radek, realized that in working with Parvus they were technically 
working for the Kaiser, and if so whether they acted with Lenin's approval. 
No historical evidence that has yet been authenticated supplies an irrefuta- 
ble answer to either question. The evidence found in the Wilhelmstrasse 
files, however, strengthens the case for believing that the two Austrian col- 
laborators of Parvus knew where the money was coming from and why it 
was being supplied so lavishly; if they did not know, they must have as- 
sumed that the stork brought it. Fuerstenburg and Radek were thus almost 
certainly German "agents" in one sense, but it is highly unlikely that either 
was the kind of agent the German government could count upon to obey 
orders. (Even Parvus and Keskuela, though more deeply committed to the 
German cause, were by no means its unquestioning tools.) In their hearts 
they were not striving for the Kaiser's victory, but for Lenin's. After the 
triumph of the Bolsheviks in Russia, Radefc was to become a leading Soviet 
agent seeking to promote the cause of revolution in postwar Germany, 
while Fuerstenburg eventually served the Soviet government loyally in a 
number of responsible posts. It is possible, of course, that neither man 
ever admitted to Lenin that they were taking German government money 
and collaborating with the German political warfare apparatus as a means 
for promoting the revolutionary cause, but if they had not been perfectly 
frank with him it is hard to believe that he would later have trusted them 
as much as apparently he did. 

Actually, the accumulation of evidence, particularly since World War n, 
about the relations between the Kaiser's government and the Bolsheviks in 
the earlier conflict renders the controversy over Lenin's role almost point- 
less. If he sanctioned the collaboration between some of his prominent 
supporters and his country's enemy which seems probable but not yet 
provedhe did it indirectly so that it gave the Germans no hold over him 
and thus left him at all times not their agent but a free agent On the other 
hand, whether Lenin knew about it or not, the Germans, chiefly through 
Parvus and Keskuela, were giving substantial assistance to his underground 
organization at home. They produced revolutionary propaganda and 
smuggled it in bulk into Russia. They provided arms and munitions. They 
handed over to the revolutionary underground sizable cash subsidies, in- 
cluding the ruble balances from some large-scale illicit trade operations con- 
ceived and directed by Parvus. Social-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and 
various minority organizations benefited from clandestine German assist- 
ance, but much of it undoubtedly went to the Bolsheviks. The Germans 


furthermore propagandized Russian prisoners of war on a vast scale one 
of the agents used for this work was Roman Malinovsky, the former col- 
league of Lenin and of the Okhrana. In return for the German help the 
Bolshevik underground in Russia, with or without Lenin's knowledge, sup- 
plied the Germans with what they considered valuable intelligence reports, 
(there are explicit references to them in the Wilhelmstrasse files). 

The decisive German contribution to the Bolshevik cause was, of course, 
allowing Lenin after the March Revolution to return to Russia across Ger- 
man territory he had no other dependable way of reaching his destination. 
As far as is known, the idea originated with the Bolshevik emigres in Swit- 
zerland, and the approach to the Germans was made unofficially, through 
a Swiss Socialist leader and the Swiss government. There may have been 
earlier direct or indirect contacts between individual emigres and German 
agents concerning the project, but if so there is no record of them in the 
Wilhelmstrasse files. The first official German mention of the affair is a tele- 
gram from the German minister in Bern, dated March 23, 1917, and ap- 
parently inspired by information from the Swiss Foreign Office, reporting 
the desire of the leading Russian revolutionaries in Switzerland to return 
to their homeland via Germany, 

The political warfare implications of the enterprise seem to have been 
thoroughly realized on both the Russian and the German sides, from the 
beginning. Lenin was acutely aware that any appearance of collusion with 
the Kaiser's government would discredit him in the eyes of the Russian 
people and expose him on his arrival in Russia to possible prosecution for 
intelligence with the enemy. He was reluctant to have any direct contact 
with German representatives in Switzerland, and negotiated the arrange- 
ments for the trip through a neutral intermediary, the Swiss Socialist, Fritz 
Flatten. Among the conditions Flatten was instructed to insist upon were: 
extra-territorial status for the railway carriage in which the 6migres would 
cross German soil; no one except the travelers to be admitted to the car- 
riage at any time without Platten's authorization; tickets to be paid for at 
the normal tariff; no passport inspection on entering or leaving Germany; 
bona-fide Russian emigres to be accepted for the trip regardless of whether 
they held pro-war or anti-war views. Flatten likewise stressed the necessity 
for avoiding publicity, and particularly for discouraging any optimistic 
editorial discussion of the trip in the German press that might compromise 
the Emigres. 

The Germans showed themselves understanding and co-operative on all 
these points. Their realization of the need to protect the reputations of the 
travelers is brought out in several of the Wilhelmstrasse documents. The 
military and police authorities raised no pedantic issue of "security"; it 
was assuring the security of the &nigr6s that mainly seemed to cause them 
concern. The final decision to authorize the trip was referred to the highest 


governmental and military authorities, including Ludendorff and the Kai- 
ser, Judging from a memorandum in the Foreign Office files, Wilhelm took 
a keen, if somewhat fatuous, interest in the operation. "His Majesty the 
Kaiser," records the memorandum, "suggested at breakfast today that the 
Russian Socialists traveling through Germany should be given White Books 
and other literature, such as copies of the Easter Message and of the Chan- 
cellor's speech, so that they may be able to enlighten others in their own 
country. In the event of the Russians being refused entry into Sweden, the 
High Command of the Army would be prepared to get them into Russia 
through German lines." 

Lenin's party, conducted by Flatten, finally left Zurich on April 9, after 
a lively scuffle between hostile and friendly demonstrators who had come 
to the station to see them off. There were thirty-two Russian emigres in the 
group: nineteen Bolsheviks including Lenin, Krupskaya, Inessa Armand, 
and Zinoviev; three left-wing Mensheviks; six members of the Jewish Bund; 
and four politically unclassified passengers, one of whom was a four-year- 
old child. Radek joined the train at the German frontier. 

"They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from 
Switzerland into Russia," wrote Winston Churchill, but the sealed truck 
or train as it is usually styled was as metaphorical as the bacillus, and its 
passage across Germany was prosaic. The Russians had a private carriage, 
kept locked by mutual agreement, that was hitched on to various trains in 
the course of its journey. The Russians had brought some food with them 
and the Germans, through Flatten, provided more, including milk for the 
children. At one stop a German officer in civilian clothes Headquarters 
instructions had specified that he be an "understanding" type of officer- 
visited the carriage and talked to Flatten. The Swiss assured him that the 
Russians were gratified with the co-operation shown by the German govern- 
ment. At Frankfurt the special carriage missed its connection and there was 
a delay of several hours. In Berlin it was shunted about in the yards for a 
long time. Altogether the trip took two days. The second night was spent in 
Sassnitz, a little German port on the Baltic, where the Russians were locked 
up in what the Wilhelmstrasse report described as good accommodations 
that had been provided for them. 

From Sassnitz, the party crossed by boat to Malmo, in Sweden. The 
Swedish government, at the request of the Germans, had agreed to give 
them transit to Finland. They stopped over in Stockholm, where Lenin 
conferred with Ganetsky and other Bolsheviks resident in Sweden, though 
he sensibly refused to see Parvus who was on hand for the occasion. A 
Swedish train took the party to the Finnish border, where Flatten dropped 
off: the 6migr6s crossed by sled on to Russian soil (Finland was still under 
Russian sovereignty) and then took a train south for Petrograd. 

Lenin arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd on the evening of 


April 16. He had half expected to be arrested. Instead there was a huge 
crowd a tribute to his reputation as an incorruptible revolutionary leader 
a band and a delegation of Bolsheviks, brandishing triumphant banners 
and carrying an enormous, incongruous bouquet of hot-house flowers with 
which to welcome the returning exile. There was even the Menshevik 
leader Chkeidze, the chairman of the Ex Com, to greet him officially in the 
name of the Petrograd Soviet, and in that of the Revolution. In his care- 
fully prepared address of welcome, Chkeidze stressed the importance of co- 
operation among the various democratic groups in Russia, and the need 
for defending the Revolution against its enemies "from within or from 

Lenin, wearing a round fur cap and carrying his implausible bouquet, 
took no notice of Chkeidze, according to an eyewitness (the Menshevik 
writer and memoralist of the Revolution, N. N. Sukhanov) . By way of re- 
ply, he turned away from the official delegation and spoke directly to the 
crowd. "Dear Comrades, soldiers, sailors and workers," Lenin began. "I 
am happy to greet in your persons the victorious Russian revolution, and 
greet you as the vanguard of the world-wide proletarian army . . . the 
piratical imperialist war is the beginning of civil war throughout Europe 
. , . any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash. . . . Long 
live the world-wide socialist revolution." In a second address on leaving the 
station, Lenin briefly denounced "the shameful imperialist slaughter." 

In the context of the occasion it was a declaration of war against the 
Provisional Government, and an undisguised appeal to organized defeatism 
and sedition. The local Bolsheviks who were present they included Ka- 
menev and Stalin looked acutely unhappy. The representatives of the 
other revolutionary parties naturally were furious. Sukhanov even heard 
a soldier later in die day declare, "We ought to stick our bayonets into a 
fellow like that." From the German viewpoint everything had gone off 

LENIN'S ENTRY INTO RUSSIA SUCCESSFUL, a telegram from the German 
Ambassador in Stockholm reported on April 17. HE is WORKING EXACTLY 


Perhaps if the German political warriors had seen the verbatim text of 
Lenin's remarks at the Finland Station their admiration at their own clever- 
ness might have been tinctured with some slight uneasiness for the more 
distant future. 


To the Bitter End 


[N certain respects the fate of the Russian Imperial Family 
. after the abdication of Nicholas n is unique in the annals 
of fallen royalty. The ex-Czar and his wife died neither as martyrs to the 
cause of autocracy, nor as formal scapegoats for its crimes. After a har- 
rowing, vexatious, but not systematically cruel detention, they were slaugh- 
tered, together with their children, for somewhat fuzzy reasons of revolu- 
tionary expediency, in circumstances of prosaic squalor that recall the gas 
ovens of Hitler's Germany rather than the tumbrils of eighteenth-century 
France or the scaffold of seventeenth-century England. Their private ordeal 
is merely a footnote to the immense collective tragedy of the Russian Revolu- 
tion. This footnote, however, is of the kind that sheds essential ligjit upon 
a cloudy text. Retracing the long calvary of Nicholas Romanov and his 
family, first under the Provisional Government, then under the Bolsheviks, 
to its grisly end in the house at Ekaterinburg, serves to remind us of the hu- 
man reality all too often the piteous human reality that underlies the min- 
eral glaze of historical generalization. At the same time it lays bare, as no 
abstract analysis can, some of the basic political or psychological mech- 
anisms that sabotaged Russia's brief experiment in democracy and pre- 
pared the way for a new, more efficient, more implacable despotism. 

For the first few days after Nicholas gave up the throne nobody seems 
to have taken very seriously the problem of his future. The readiness with 
which he had abdicated in favor of his brother he had resigned as com- 
mander-in-chief of the armies at the same time appeared to guarantee the 
sincerity of his renunciation. The fact that the Grand Duke Michael had 
provisionally refused the crown complicated the juridical situation some- 


what, but there is no evidence that Nicholas ever had the least intention of 
trying to recover, either for himself or for his son, the power he had given 
away. (Alexandra, it is true, was once heard to murmur, "Some day the 
people wfll change their minds and call on Alexis, and then everything will 
be all right.") On the contrary, the former autocrat went out of his path to 
support the Provisional Government. In his farewell message to the army 
from Mogilev on March 20, 1917, he implicitly repudiated the doctrine 
of absolutism and recognized the de facto republic that Russia had be- 
come, pending the constituent assembly. "After my renunciation of the 
Russian throne for myself and for my son," Nicholas wrote, "authority 
passes to the Provisional Government formed on the initiative of the Duma. 
May God aid it to lead Russia on the path of glory and of prosperity." 

No doubt it was mainly in the hope of committing the army to fight on 
until complete victory that the ex-Czar penned his message "Whoever now 
dreams of peace, whoever desires it ... betrays ... the land of his fa- 
thers," reads one passage. The final injunction to accept the authority of the 
Provisional Government is linked with an appeal to "defend our glorious 
fatherland" and to "obey your chiefs," The influence of the General Staff, 
haunted by dread of the soldiers' Soviets, is discernible in the text, but there 
is nothing subversive or counterrevolutionary in it from the viewpoint of the 
new government. While Kerensky's enthusiasm for continuing the war may 
have been moderate at first, the "Cadet" ministers who held lie majority in 
the cabinet, were as wholehearted in their determination to keep Russia in 
the war at the side of her allies, as were Nicholas and most of the generals. 

When Nicholas left Moghilev on March 21, escorted by three special en- 
voys from Petrograd, it was with the understanding arrived at somewhat 
vaguely between the General Staff and the Provisional Government that he 
would live in discreet retirement at Tsarskoe Selo until arrangements could 
be made for the entire Imperial Family to sail for England, via Murmansk. 
Military honors were accorded Nicholas as he entrained, but at almost the 
same moment, General L. G. Kornilov, the new commander of the Petro- 
grad district, presented himself to Alexandra at Tsarskoe Selo with the 
words, "Your Majesty, it is my heavy duty to inform you of the decision 
of the Provisional Government You are henceforth to consider yourself 
under arrest." The real status of the ex-Czar became painfully apparent on 
his arrival the following day. At the station of the little town several of the 
courtiers or members of his military household who had accompanied 
him from Moghilev, scrambled out of the train and disappeared, abandon- 
ing their former master to his fate. When Nicholas punctiliously saluted 
the guard at the gates of the Alexander Palace, his salute was not returned. 

The official prisoners, or detainees, were Nicholas, Alexandra, their old- 
est daughter Olga, a tall well-built girl of twenty-two, Tatiana, twenty, 
Marie, eighteen, Anastasia, sixteen, and Alexis, thirteen, the former Czare- 


vitch, a high-spirited and rather unruly boy. Nicholas was visibly aged by 
the strain and despondency of the last few months; his hair and beard were 
streaked with gray and deep lines were beginning to appear in his face. The 
change in the appearance of the once majestic and coldly beautiful Alexan- 
dra was even more shocking; though not yet forty-five she had turned into 
an elderly invalid, crippled with sciatica and heart trouble. 

Sharing the detention of the former Imperial Family, but free to leave if 
they wished to, were three former courtiers, Count Paul Benckendorf, Prince 
Dolgoruki, and Madame E. A. Naryshkina, the last Mistress of the Robes; 
Dr. E. S. Botkin, their family physician; the governess and assistant 
governess of the girls; the ex-Czarevitch's Swiss tutor, Pierre Gilliard, his 
English teacher, Gibbs, and a handful of faithful domestic servants. (Anna 
Vyrubova had been living in the palace at the time of the revolution-she 
had caught the measles from the children but she had been transferred to 
prison on Kerensky's orders for having helped Alexandra to burn some con- 
fidential papers.) Responsibility for custody and protection of the whole 
group was divided between Colonel Korovitchenko, a Kerensky appointee, 
who acted as commandant of the palace, and Colonel Kobylinsky, com- 
mander of the Tsarskoe Selo garrison troops, a brave and kindhearted offi- 
cer with monarchist leanings. 

The decision to put the former Imperial Family under arrest had been 
taken on March 20, upon the recommendation of Kerensky as Minister of 
Justice; originally it was conceived as a temporary measure. Like most acts 
of the Provisional Government, it was inspired by contradictory motiva- 
tions. One was a wholely sincere desire to assure the safety of the former 
sovereigns. Kerensky was determined not "to play the role of a Russian 
Marat," as he heatedly told a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet which was 
clamoring for Nicholas' head; a counterproposal to hold the ex-Czar pend- 
ing eventual trial before an "impartial tribune" seemed the best way to un- 
dercut extremist agitation for more summary justice. There is some reason, 
however, for suspecting that the pressure on the Provisional Government 
from the left, while real enough, was not yet irresistible, and that there was 
a weightier, quite different reason for signing the order of arrest that was 
to prove the death warrant of the Romanovs. "While the mass of workers 
and peasants were indifferent to the foreign policies of the Czar and his 
government," Kerensky later testified, "the intellectuals, the bourgeoisie and 
some of the higher-ranking officer-class thought they detected in the foreign 
and domestic policies of the Czar, and more particularly in the intrigues of 
the Czarina, a definite tendency to lead the country to its ruin for the sole 
purpose of concluding a separate peace and an alliance with Germany." 

Whether even those who suspected Alexandra of being a German agent 
ever believed that Nicholas had connived in the supposed sabotage of the 
Russian war effort is highly doubtful. The smear campaign against the 


former rulers served a useful purpose, however, from the viewpoint of the 
new ones. It helped to make the war look like people's war, and its con- 
tinuation a revolutionary as well as a patriotic duty. Even a number of 
monarchists joined in the attacks on the fallen monarch, whom they 
blamed for the revolution. The Allied governments were likewise quick to 
see the point. Despite an indignant protest from King George V perhaps 
the last, as well as the first gentleman of the Entente powers a British offer 
of asylum for the former Imperial Family was quietly withdrawn; the 
French government, then headed by Clemenceau a true heir of the Jacobin 
tradition was equally unsentimental about the fate of the man who had 
been his country's most loyal and accommodating ally. The de facto war- 
time dictatorships of the West did not want to compromise themselves with 
an ex-autocrat-by-Divine-Right. 

A special investigating commission had been set up as early as March 18 
in Petrograd to look into possible "illegal acts committed by former minis- 
ters and high officials of the Empire in the exercise of their functions." 
Kerensky informally broadened its terms of reference to include investiga- 
tion into the conduct of the former Imperial Couple, particularly from the 
viewpoint of their loyalty toward the nation over which they had ruled. In 
practice the commission turned into a kind of grand jury charged with de- 
termining whether there were grounds for an indictment of high treason 
against Nicholas and Alexandra. Kerensky himself played the role of spe- 
cial prosecutor on occasion and subjected the couple to numerous interro- 
gations. The commission was still sifting the evidence when the Bolsheviks 
came to power. Everything that it had turned up indicated the wild im- 
probability of the principal charge, or suspicion, and though its work was 
to prove a boon to future historians, it made hardly any effort to explore 
the ex-Czar's personal responsibility which was doubtless substantial in 
some of the real crimes against humanity committed by officials acting in 
his name. The Commission did not judge, but in a sense it punished, for 
its exigencies gave Alexandra and Nicholas a taste of the Kafkaesque ma- 
levolence that the repressive machinery of the Czarist regime had often 
enough manifested toward its victims. To this degree justice of the retribu- 
tive sort an eye for an eye, a life for a life, a nightmare for a nightmare- 
was meted out. 

On pretext of avoiding "collusion," Kerensky gave orders that Nicholas 
and Alexandra should be kept apart except at mealtime when the whole 
family was to be maintained under close surveillance, and table talk was 
to be restricted to banalities (this last proviso, it is true, was not much of a 
hardship in the Romanov family circle) . No visitors were to be admitted 
without written authorization from Kerensky. Walking in the park was 
limited to certain hours; neither Nicholas nor his children could take a step 
without being followed around the grounds (Alexandra was usually con- 


fined to her wheel chair). This strict regime lasted only for a month. After 
personally questioning the former rulers some eight or ten times, Kerensky 
came to the conclusion that any suspicion of treason in their case was ab- 
surd. His manner, at first cold and arrogant, thawed under exposure to 
Nicholas 9 wistful charm. He restored the relative freedom of movement in- 
side the palace grounds that the detainees had earlier enjoyed, and tried to 
relieve their anxiety about the future. Negotiations for asylum in England 
or France were going forward, Kerensky assured Nicholas. The family's 
detention was only a temporary measure for their own protection. There 
was absolutely nothing to fear; the Provisional Government, on Kerensky's 
own recommendation, had even abolished capital punishment. 

The platonic nature of these reassurances soon became clear to Nicholas 
and his entourage. As the attitude of the Provisional Government softened 
toward the former rulers, that of the soldiers who guarded them became 
increasingly spiteful and suspicious. Even many of the junior officers were 
infected with the hostile mood or thought it expedient to seem to be. One 
day at the changing of the guard, when Nicholas, according to his custom, 
offered his hand to the officer who was being relieved, the latter refused to 
shake hands with him. "Why so, my friend?" the ex-Czar asked, putting 
his hands on the officer's shoulders and looking him straight in the face. 
"I am a man of the people," the officer replied, stepping back. 'When the 
people offered you its hand you didn't take it. Now I won't give you mine." 

Such incidents reflected, among other things, the growing influence of left- 
wing propaganda in the army the work not merely of the Bolsheviks and of 
other revolutionary extremists, but of the Soviets which were ostensibly 
co-operating with the Provisional Government while stealthily and in some 
cases perhaps inadvertently undermining its authority. Shortly after the 
revolution a soviet was set up in Tsarskoe Selo, in imitation of the Petro- 
grad one, and in keeping with the doctrine of dual power, it attached a sort 
of political commissar to the local garrison. Kobylinsky managed to keep 
this individual, an officer-candidate of revolutionary background, away 
from the palace but could not prevent him from conducting incessant agita- 
tion among the soldiers aimed at whipping up their hatred against the Im- 
perial Family and at arousing suspicion of the Provisional Government. The 
Romanovs were plotting against the Republic, the commissar-agitator 
charged; the authorities in Petrograd were criminally lenient toward the 
conspirators; the soldiers and workers of Tsarskoe Selo must therefore re- 
double their vigilance, and if necessary, take the law into their own hands. 

Naturally all these incitements and insinuations poisoned the mind of the 
soldiers against the high-level prisoners they were guarding; they came to 
look on the ex-Czar and his family as dangerous criminals, and treated 
them accordingly. Discipline gradually broke down and the garrison which 
at first had seemed wholly reliable from the viewpoint of the Provisional 


Government began to show Alarming symptoms of disaffection. Of course, 
other and more general factors were contributing to the demoralization of 
the forces stationed at Tsarskoe Selo; the phenomenon was virtually na- 
tion-wide during the spring and summer of 1917. The noose of circumstance 
was gradually tightening around the throats of the new rulers in Petrograd 
as well as round those of the former ones in Tsarskoe Selo. Perhaps at this 
point we should interrupt the story of the Imperial Family's last days for 
a brief look at the general situation in Russia during the first few months of 
the democratic regime. 

The most tragic thing about the period immediately after the March 
Revolution in Russia is that it was a time of hope. A number of policemen 
and a few officers had been lynched during the Petrograd uprising, or just 
after it, but in the main the Russian people showed themselves astonishingly 
free of vindictiveness toward their former oppressors. The nobles not only 
retained their heads, but in most cases their estates. Arson and pillage were 
far rarer hi the countryside than they had been during the insurrectionary 
troubles of 1905. Disorder, in the sense of the breakdown of discipline and 
of methodical administration, was almost universalit was particularly 
evident in the army but at first it was seldom accompanied by violence. 
The Russian people misused their new-found freedom in nearly every pos- 
sible way, except by failing to enjoy it, and their enjoyment kept them 
good-humored in the midst of chaos. Their gravest revolutionary excesses 
were the excesses of verbalism. After the censorship and snooping of the 
Czarist regime it was a delight to speak one's mind freely. To this delight 
the Russians abandoned themselves utterly and irresponsibly. It was the 
golden age of demagogy, and democratic Russia was the Eldorado of the 
soap box. In the big cities every factory, every office, every street corner 
was a forum. 

"Crowds form in the streets on any occasion," noted a Western observer 
in Petrograd at the end of April. "One man stops to chat with another; 
passers-by gather around to listen in. Soon the first man is delivering an 
ideological harangue, and hecklers in the audience are answering him back." 

Oddly enough, the Bolsheviks, though they were better staffed with ex- 
perienced and uninhibited agitators than most of the revolutionary parties, 
were not spectacularly successful in these bloodless street battles of ideas, 
at least when this target was the masses. The Russian peasant, the Russian 
worker and the Russian soldier in 1917 were all for pie-in-the-sky and peace 
on earth but they generally disapproved of civil massacre and organized de- 
featism as means of attaining them. Lenin's ruthless bid for power, his 
program of revolutionary dictatorship and his call for immediate peace at 
any price seemed shocking to idealistic Russian leftists, including some of 
his own party. In June when he announced before an all-Russian congress 


of Soviets that the Bolsheviks were ready to take over the government at 
any moment, and that their first act would be to hang fifty or a hundred 
capitalists, Kerensky indignantly interrupted him. '*You Bolsheviks," he 
shouted from the floor, "what are you? Socialists or police of the old re- 
gime?" Not only the congress, but most of Russia applauded the rebuke. 

Yet the Bolsheviks, galvanized by Lenin's audacity and driven on by his 
implacable will, were making steady headway all the time. Much of their 
effort was devoted, as it had been in Czarist times, to underground organi- 
zation and agitation, but at certain levels their progress was clearly visible. 
They did not care greatly about the intellectuals and they were unable to 
win over the masseseven after they came to power, in the last free (or semi- 
free) elections ever held in Russia the Bolsheviks still trailed behind the 
Social-Revolutionaries, the old-fashioned party of agrarian discontent- 
but they succeeded better than any Russian party in converting to their 
views what might be termed the revolutionary elites: the soldiers and work- 
ers who would be most valuable as the cadres or technicians of a coup 

Lenin's prize recruit was Trotsky, who arrived from America in mid- 
May and after a few weeks of fellow-traveling formally joined the Bol- 
sheviks in July. A big name in Russian revolutionary circles because of his 
role in 1905, Trotsky, now thirty-eight, was at the height of his volcanic 
powers. With his dark eyes flashing behind his spectacles, his wild upstand- 
ing shock of hair that always seemed about to shoot out sparks of static 
electricity, and his heavy authoritative mustaches, Trotsky was Kerensky's 
only rival or master as a mob orator. What was more important from the 
Bolshevik point of view was that he was a trained, wily conspirator, a bril- 
liant revolutionary organizer, and a genius in respect to the tactics and 
strategy of revolutionary war. Lenin incarnated the indomitable power drive 
of the Bolsheviks, the party's operational conscience; Trotsky was to be the 
technician of victory. It was a formidable partnership Robespierre plus 
Napoleon and any regime threatened by such a combination of deadly 
talents obviously had cause for concern. Probably no other revolutionary 
movement in history has had such superbly effective leadership at the high- 
est level as the Bolsheviks possessed in 1917. It was unquestionably one of 
the reasons for their ultimate triumph but it was not the only one. 

'Would you have mastered the Bolsheviks if you had made a separate 
peace?" Lord Beaverbrook, the British publisher, asked Kerensky when 
they were introduced in a London club by Sir Bruce Lockhart, who relates 
the anecdote in his memoirs, British Agent, "Of course," Kerensky replied 
(according to Lockhart). 'We should be in Moscow now." 

Some skepticism is permissible, given the caliber of the opposition that 
Kerensky faced and the inherent weaknesses of the dual-power system in 
Russia that he had helped to set up. Moreover Kerensky frittered away 


Russia's hopes for a democratic future by failing to come up with suf- 
ficiently clear-cut solutions to two of the country's most basic problems. 
One was the land-hunger of the peasants which left-wing demagogy ex- 
ploited by agitating for immediate distribution of private estates. The other 
was the national aspirations of the Empire's subject peoples: Poles, Finns, 
Ukrainians, Baltic nations, and the smaller ethnic minorities. All these sub- 
merged nations began to stir after the March Revolution; a bold federalist 
program might have held their separatist tendencies within bounds and at 
the same time have won over their middle classes as allies of Russian de- 
mocracy against the Bolshevik threat. Instead, as the German historian 
Georg von Rauch puts it, "The Provisional Government remained as before 
a slave of the narrow, nationalist and centralist thinking of the overthrown 
Czarist regime," and the minorities became more and more alienated. 

There is no doubt, however, that the Provisional Government in trying 
to keep Russia in the war killed whatever slender chances of survival it 
may have had. George Kennan argues rather convincingly that only a gen- 
eral compromise peace might possibly have saved the democratic regime in 
Russia, President Wilson, who in his speech of April 2, 1917, calling for a 
declaration of war against the Central Powers had hailed "tie wonderful 
and heartening things that have been happening the last few weeks in Rus- 
sia/' made no move in the direction of peace quite the contrary and 
neither did the other Allied leaders. Instead they put heavy pressure on the 
new Russian government to fight on to victory. When Milyukov at the 
beginning of May pledged Russia to do exactly that the pledge was in the 
form of a diplomatic note to Russia's allies he provoked the first political 
crisis of the new regime. The Finnish Regiment threatened to mutiny and 
there were riots in the capital. To ease the strain, Milyukov and Guchkov 
resigned, Prince Lvov brought several moderate socialists into the govern- 
ment and Kerensky took over the War Ministry. 

The warning did not suffice. The Allies not only stepped up their pressure 
on the Provisional Government to stay in the war "No fight, no loans," as 
former Secretary of State Elihu Root succinctly put it when he arrived at the 
head of an American aid mission in June but began insisting that the bat- 
tered, disorganized Russian armies once more take the offensive. Kerensky, 
despite his earlier misgivings (and his later hindsight) responded enthusi- 
astically to this suicidal demand. Wearing a peasant blouse and a military 
cap he toured the trenches, haranguing the troops. He replaced Alexeyev as 
commander-in-chief with General A. A. Brusilov, the most brilliant, and 
reputedly the most socialist of the Russian generals; he somehow persuaded 
the military Soviets to co-operate with the officer corps in restoring dis- 
cipline. On the home front he instigated a vigorous campaign against de- 
featism. Even the Ex Com of the Petrograd Soviet joined in with an appeal 
to the soldiers which informed them that they were no longer "fighting for 


the Czar, for Protopopov, Rasputin and the rich, but for Russian freedom 
and the Revolution." 

The army's response was almost miraculous. Overnight, it seemed, it 
became again an effective fighting force. July 1, after a two-day artillery 
preparation, 31 Russian divisions clambered out of the trenches on the 
Galician front and rushed at the enemy with their old-time elan. For two 
days they made good progress. Then the offensive bogged down. When 
the Russian shock troops were used up and the reserves sufficiently ex- 
hausted, the Germans launched a devastating counteroffensive. The Rus- 
sian front collapsed. This was when the Russian soldier started voting with 
his feet, as Lenin was later to put it. 

On the day that the German counteroffensive started, a left-wing insur- 
rection against the Provisional Government broke out in Petrograd. It was 
spearheaded by anarchist sailors from the Kronstadt naval base, and cov- 
ertly supported possibly instigated by the Bolsheviks. For a few hours the 
result was in doubt. Then the government collected a sufficient force of 
Cossacks and other loyal troops and after three days of fighting in the 
streets stamped out the rebellion. Lenin went into hiding, eventually escap- 
ing to Finland. Trotsky and several other Bolshevik leaders, who had 
scorned flight, were imprisoned and the Bolshevik headquarters in the 
palace of the dancer Ksesinskaya the early flame of Nicholas n was 
closed down. The party paper, Pravda, was suppressed. 

The leftist fiasco in the July days, as the abortive uprising is usually 
termed, temporarily saved the Provisional Government from the conse- 
quences of the debacle at the front, and brought Kerensky to the Premier- 
shiphe succeeded Prince Lvov on July 20. The Bolshevik role in the 
disorders had destroyed any remaining illusions Kerensky may have had 
about Lenin, Trotsky, and their companions as being "normal" Socialist 
leaders, just a little more extreme in their views perhaps, than others. The 
Bolsheviks, Kerensky now realized, were ruthless and incorrigible conspira- 
tors. Evidence collected by the Russian military counterespionage service 
purporting to establish that Lenin was a paid German agent played a big 
part in this phase of Kerensky's political education. With his acute sense of 
propaganda he made the dubious information the basis for a violent cam- 
paign against the Bolsheviks, accusing them among other crimes of hav- 
ing deliberately fomented the July rising on orders from their German 
employers to support the counteroffensive on the Galician front. The evi- 
dence available to Kerensky in 1917, while sometimes close to the truth, 
was not true evidence; it led hfrn to underestimate his adversaries if the 
Bolshevik leaders had been German agents, mere venal adventurers, they 
would have proved much less dangerous than they turned out to be and 
it may help to explain why the governmental smear campaign against the 


party, after initially arousing a great deal of patriotic indignation, eventually 
ceased to interest the Russian public. 1 

By mid-August the Bolsheviks, though their leaders were still proscribed 
or under arrest, had largely recouped their political losses of July; history 
often forgives those who dare too much too soon. Agitation was spreading 
again in the factories and in the demoralized army. The Petrograd Soviet 
which at first had been deeply impressed by the revelations of Bolshevik 
iniquity, was drawing away from the government again. At the same time, 
the conservative elements in Russia who had applauded Kerensky's crack- 
down on the Bolsheviks were unmistakably losing confidence in him as a 
reliable bulwark against revolution. The ground was beginning to quiver 
under Kerensky's feet. In trying to stave off disaster, he carried out a series 
of overly subtle or perhaps simply wild moves on the political chess 
board that eventually precipitated it One of his luckless pawns was the 

Like many other members of the old regime, the Romanovs were relieved 
at the outcome of the July days and their confidence in the ability of the 
Provisional Government to save Russia from disaster was momentarily re- 
stored. "It is all such chaos," Nicholas wrote when he heard about the 
fighting in the capital. "Luckily the troops remained loyal to the government 
and order is restored," The soldiers of the Tsarskoe Selo garrison were 
among those who had remained loyal, but their loyalty, like everything else 
in Russia at that time, was provisional; it soon began to waver again, and 
the prisoners in the palace could gauge the steady worsening of the political 
climate by the increasing rudeness of their guards. Simultaneously, the 
Soviets in Tsarskoe Selo and in Petrograd renewed their sniping at the gov- 
ernment for "pampering" the former Imperial Family. 

The decision to move the ex-Czar and his family away from the vicinity 
of the capital had been taken even before the July insurrection, and Nicho- 

1 The real facts were that the Germans had increased their financial and other as- 
sistance to the Bolsheviks after the March Revolution, but that the Bolsheviks continued 
to pocket it as hefore and do as they pleased. They needed no outside orders or en- 
couragement to attack the Provisional Government. A telegram from the German For- 
eign Ministry to GHQ dated December 3, 1917, but referring to the period before the 
November Revolution puts the matter in sound perspectives: "Russia appeared to be 
the weakest link in the enemy chain. The task therefore was to loosen it, and when 
possible, to remove it This was the purpose of the subversive activity we caused to 
be carried out in Russia behind the frontin the first place promotion of separatist 
tendencies and support of the Bolsheviks. It was not until the Bolsheviks had received 
from us a steady flow of funds through various channels that they were in a position 
to be able to build up their main organ Pravda to conduct energetic propaganda, and 
appreciably to extend the originally narrow basis of their party. The Bolsheviks have 
now come to power . . ." The message goes on to recommend continued support on 
the grounds that it is in the German interest to keep the Bolsheviks in power. There is 
no claim to exercising any direct control over them; there is the claim that German 
financial help contributed to their victory. 


las had been informed. He was neither surprised nor worried when Keren- 
sky warned him early in August that it was now imperative to execute the 
decision without further delay. The actual departure on the early morning 
of August 14 was tumultuous. The soldiers of the palace guard were in- 
dignant that the prisoners were being allowed to take along all the luggage 
they liked and reluctant to see them go at all The trial of the Romanovs 
would soon be taking place in Petrograd, the soldiers argued, and they 
should be held where there was no chance of their escaping; in fact it might 
be better all round if "things were managed without a trial." It took all of 
Kerensky's powers of persuasion to get the family and their party safely to 
the special train that was waiting for them* "Remember that one does not 
strike a fallen adversary," he sternly reminded the train guards at the station. 

Up to almost the last minute, the Romanovs had supposed they were 
being transferred to their estates in the Crimea; according to some accounts, 
it was not until the train had pulled out of Tsarskoe Selo that Nicholas 
learned their real destination was Tobolsk, in western Siberia. The choice 
of this remote provincial center it was off the main railroad line to Vla- 
divostok, and the last lap of the trip was by river steamer reflects the 
complexity both of the political situation in Russia and of Kerensky's char- 
acter. The Romanovs would probably have been safer in the south where 
there was a good deal of monarchist, or at least conservative, sentiment, 
but the train trip would have required a strong military escort and sending 
them there might have triggered a major political crisis. Tobolsk was virtu- 
ally untouched by the revolutionary unrest that prevailed in European 
Russia; Nicholas and his family would be quite safe there, they would be 
out of the public eye, and eventually it might be possible to slip them dis- 
creetly out of the country to Japan. At the same time Tobolsk was in Siberia 
the traditional place of exile for political and other criminals. It had over- 
tones of prison camp and salt mine. Nobody could accuse Kerensky of 
betraying the revolution because he had sent the Romanovs to Siberia; on 
the contrary, it demonstrated that he was a loyal son of the Revolution, a 
true man of the left. The demonstration seemed all the more useful, from 
Kerensky's viewpoint, because at the moment he was drawing closer to the 
right. He had agreed to restore the death penalty in the army and had ap- 
pointed General Kornilov, a stern disciplinarian, commander-in-chief . 

Transferring the former Imperial Family to their ambivalent haven-exile 
was a dexterous maneuver, but dexterity was not what the situation chiefly 
called for. Kerensky's problem was to win the confidence and respect of 
the numerous elements both to the right and to the left of the Provisional 
Government who were ready to follow, or at least accept, his leadership if 
they could be brought to feel a little more sure that he knew where he was 
going. The sleight of hand by which he had managed to whisk the Romanovs 
away to Tobolsk reassured nobody; its very cleverness tended to sharpen 


the vague mistrust that he had inspired from the first in the minds of many 
Russians. It is possible that his handling of the affair was in itself a signifi- 
cant factor in the misunderstanding that now arose between Kerensky and 
General Kornilov; in any case it illustrated the self-defeating, slightly shy- 
sterish disingenuity on Kerensky's part that contributed to the fatal break 
between the two men. 

Kerensky, of course, was not solely to blame for what happened, Korni- 
lov's lack of political maturity, his impatience, and probably his ambition 
were contributory factors. So were the divergent intrigues or pressures of 
Russia's allies: the British and French military attaches were egging on 
Kornilov, while the U. S. Embassy encouraged Kerensky to resist his de- 
mands. At first the two men agreed, or thought they had agreed, on the 
need for a firm hand both in the army and on the home front. Then Korni- 
lov began to feel that Kerensky was weaseling out of his agreements, while 
Kerensky came to look on Kornflov as a potential rival and as a threat to 
Russian democracy. The noisy support that the right gave to what soon 
became known as "Kornilovism" naturally added to these fears. Kornilov, 
who was the son of a Siberian Cossack, was not a monarchist, but he be- 
lieved that some form of rule more authoritarian than the existing Pro- 
visional Government was needed to rescue the nation from chaos, and he 
was quite frankly preparing a military coup against the Petrograd Soviet 
and its left-wing supporters. Kerensky gave the pugnacious commander-in- 
chief the impression that he acquiesced in the scheme, but he may have 
been misled about its full scope. The whole affair was a fearful and complex 
imbroglio in which reciprocal lack of confidence led each man to act more 
and more behind the other's back, thereby generating graver suspicion. 
Finally, on September 9, with Kornilov's Cossacks moving on Petrograd, 
Kerensky trapped him into some incriminating admissions and dismissed 
him from his post. 

Kornilov retaliated with a pronunciamento against the Provisional Gov- 
ernment and ordered his cavalry under General Krymov to occupy the 
capital. Kerensky appealed to the Petrograd Soviet for help and called the 
workers to arms. Trotsky, from his prison cell, urged the Bolsheviks to rally 
round the government, and a kind of informal popular front sprang up. 
Lenin's followers eagerly accepted the weapons which were thrust in their 
hands. Apparently the Komilovists had not expected mass resistance and 
the risk of civil war unnerved them. General Krymov allowed himself to be 
captured without a fight, then blew his brains out. Kornilov and his staff 
tamely submitted to arrest 

That was the end of the putsch. It was, of course, also the end of Keren- 
sky's anti-Bolshevik front, which since the July days, had held together 
the more responsible elements of the left and the more intelligent elements 
of the right. Trotsky and most of the other imprisoned Bolshevik leaders 


were released. Kerensky proclaimed the republic, nominated himself presi- 
dent and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and set up a new govern- 
ment which included several leftists among them the new War Minister, 
General Verkhovsky, the acting military attach6 in Belgrade at the time of 
Sarajevo. For political support it relied upon the most incorrigibly fuzzy- 
minded elements of the non-Communist left; Mensheviks, Social-Revolu- 
tionaries, and allied splinter groups. 

The Kornilov revolt was both a fatal and a fantastic episode in Russian 
history. The tough little general with the Tartar eyes and the hard mouth 
behaved, when the chips were down, like a military Kerensky; the former 
socialist lawyer whose name was to become a by-word for flabby liberalism 
played the part of a typical condottiere, intrepid and irresponsible. His 
lightning switch from a center-right coalition against chaos to a center-left 
alliance with it was not mere sleight of hand; it was the political equivalent 
of the circus performer's saut perilleux, a double flip-flop from the high 
trapeze without a net These suicidal acrobatics were inspired not by des- 
peration but by overconfidence. Kerensky believed that in crushing the 
Kornilov putsch, which he had earlier encouraged, he had somehow won a 
major victory over the left as well as over the right. While he may have 
underrated the sincerity of the Bolsheviks as revolutionaries, he was any- 
thing but blind to their duplicity as associates; he counted on Ms own clever- 
ness and agility to outwit them. Insofar as Kerensky's strategic miscalcula- 
tions were influenced by an ideological factor, it was the familiar failure of 
the literary or forensic mind to appreciate how much the power of ideas 
depends on the efficiency of the social machinery through which they are 
put into action. Kerensky thought of himself as the savior of democracy 
and assumed that democratic opinion in Russia was with him; even if he 
had been right which is doubtful it was largely unarmed and even un- 
organized opinion, the kind that can scarcely win an election, let alone a 
revolution. Russian liberals were prone to overlook such details, not be- 
cause liberalism and realism are antithetical, but because the old-fashioned 
Russian upper-class education which had nourished their special variety of 
liberalism did not take adequate account of modern social and political 

An even deeper factor helps to explain the extraordinary ineptitude of 
most Russian anti-Bolshevik leadership-both liberal and conservative- 
particularly the instability of character which was its chief common trait. 
The Provisional Government had to some extent filled the power-vacuum 
created by the collapse of autocracy, but it could not inspire the awe needed 
to fill the vacuum of authority. The sudden eclipse of the formidable father- 
image that the Czar represented left the Russian people especially its ruling 
classes rudderless, and their disorientation was not only emotional, but in 
a sense functional. The old Russia had been the most bureaucratic and the 


most hierarchic society in the modern world; its very titles of nobility were 
but the hereditary ranks of service. The decision-making process in the 
Russian state when it worked at all, had worked strictly from the top down, 
and co-ordination, where it existed, was inseparable from command. It was 
in the Czar's name that the trains ran on time when they did. Only a des- 
potic will could effectively replace the institutional will of the fallen despo- 
tism, and nobody but Lenin seemed to possess one. His adversaries, cut off 
from any central source of authority that they respected, unaccustomed to 
taking the initiative, frightened of responsibility and without the gift or 
habit of spontaneous co-operation that most Western peoples possess, 
could not learn in time to pull together, or even to pull themselves together. 
Sometimes they wavered and dithered, sometimes they rushed prematurely 
and recklessly into action. On certain occasions they threw their lives away 
on lost causes, on others they gave up at the first touch of adversity. They 
quarreled incessantly among themselves over secondary issues. On the rare 
occasions when they agreed on a common objective they could not concert 
their efforts to achieve it Without a Czar on his throne, it seemed, his 
partisans could not even synchronise their watches. 

The collective failure of the Russian elites to meet the challenge of revo- 
lutionas illustrated by the Kornilov fiasco, among others reflects the in- 
adequacies of their training for leadership, but it was also a symptom that 
Russian society, and not merely the Russian state, was breaking down. This 
was no less true in Tobolsk, despite the appearance of provincial calm, 
than it was in Petrograd or on the Western Front. 

For a short while life at Tobolsk was easier and pleasanter for the Roma- 
novs than it had been at Tsarskoe Selo. The former residence of the provin- 
cial governor, a large two-storied stone building, provided comfortable, if 
not luxurious, quarters for them. For service and companionship they had 
a retinue of some 40 persons, including domestic help, who had followed 
them to Siberia. Food was plentiful. Nicholas missed his long walks in the 
park at Tsarskoe Selo-for exercise he sawed wood but the family felt less 
shut in than before since they were now permitted to go to church in town 
once a day. The services were open to the public, and the guards who es- 
corted them through the streets did not seem to intimidate the townspeople, 
who saluted their former rulers with respect whenever they encountered 
them. The relaxed and unrevolutionary atmosphere of the locality tended 
to make the soldiers themselves more civil toward their prisoners. The 
guard was now under the sole command of Colonel Kobylinsky whose 
monarchist sympathies had not changed- and it was the only military unit 
in the immediate vicinity; discipline naturally improved. 

The first warning of impending danger, from the viewpoint of the royal 
exiles, was the arrival in Tobolsk during the month of September of two 
political commissars sent by Kerensky to keep watch on them. Their mission 


reflected the growing influence of the left upon the Provisional Government 
after the Kornilov revolt. Both envoys were Social-Revolutionaries of 
rather extreme views, and both had served time in Siberia under the autoc- 
racy. Though the senior commissar, an idealistic revolutionary of the old 
type, treated his fallen enemies with marked kindness, the presence of the 
two inevitably introduced a new chill into the hitherto mild Siberian air. To 
the Romanovs and particularly to Alexandra-4hey were no better than 
Bolsheviks. Kobylinsky was more discerning, but he blamed the commissars 
for inadvertently undermining the discipline and loyalty of his garrison 
through the indoctrination course that they conducted for the soldiers. The 
change in the attitude of the soldiers from mid-September on was undenia- 
ble, but it probably stemmed more from the general loss of confidence in 
the Kerensky regime aggravated in this particular case by the government's 
failure to honor earlier promises of extra pay than by ideological factors. 

In November news of the successful Bolshevik putsch in the capital 
reached western Siberia. It spread gloom and anxiety in many circles, but 
even in the ex-Czar's entourage it did not have the bombshell effect that one 
might suppose. The "ten days that shook the world" (the title of John 
Reed's idealized but vivid firsthand report on the November Revolution in 
Petrograd) did not at first shake Tobolsk. The reasons for this relative 
equanimity are interesting. 

In the first place, Lenin's followers did not at that time command either 
the admiration or the hatred and the dread that they later inspired. They 
were Communists, but so in theory were all other Marxists. They were also 
Maximalists, meaning that they were in a hurry to achieve their maximum 
objectives, and therefore prepared to use extreme methods, but there were 
various other Maximalists in Russia, among whom the anarchists and cer- 
tain of the left-wing Social-Revolutionaries, sounded wilder, more extreme, 
than the Bolsheviks. The ruthless and cynical perversion of the Marxist 
ideal that Bolshevism was destined to become under the dictatorship of 
Stalin had not as yet had a chance to manifest itself; it was only a virtuality, 
and the elements in Lenin's own thought or behavior which might have 
seemed to foreshadow the future nightmare were not taken at quite their 
face value by his adversaries. In the eyes of Russian reactionaries like the 
ex-Czar, all revolutionaries, including democratic ones, were just Reds, 
and they were all equally abhorrent except to the degree that they admitted 
the necessity of fighting for Mother Russia. Though Nicholas, himself, had 
often treated Russia as if it were his private family estate, at heart he was a 
nationalist, and in his fashion a patriot. What seems to have distressed him 
the most about the developments in Petrograd is that they had finally 
brought to power men whom he regarded essentially as internationalists 
and pacifists which many of the Bolsheviks themselves thought they still 
were, Nicholas* feelings about the Bolsheviks were in some respects akin 


to those of a Daughter of the American Revolution about UNESCO; the 
habit of viewing with alarm eventually dulls the centers of apprehension 
upon which survival may depend. 

In the second place what was known about the circumstances in which 
the Bolsheviks had taken over control of the state encouraged the wide- 
spread belief that events would soon wrest it from their grip. The Com- 
munist Dream, as interpreted by the Bolsheviks and their other Maximalist 
allies, had unquestionably captured the imagination and enthusiasm of 
many Russian workers, but it had not displayed an irresistible power of at- 
traction in the country at large. In Petrograd itself, with its huge industrial 
population, the Bolsheviks had only won a bare majority in the last elec- 
tions for the local soviet. The insurrection against the Provisional Govern- 
menteven as witnessed through the eyes of such True Believers as John 
Reed does not evoke the spectacle of spontaneous mass enthusiasm that 
characterized the March uprising. As we know now, it was a premeditated 
coup d'etat inspired by Lenin (and ultimately directed by him) but or- 
ganized mainly by Trotsky, who exploited with consummate skill the 
tactical possibilities inherent in his newly won office as president of the 
Petrograd Soviet. Preparations for the coup had been camouflaged as de- 
fensive measures against a renewed assault of the "Kornilovists," and a 
justificatory pretext for launching it was furnished by provoking the govern- 
ment into striking the first blow. During the night of November 6-7, the 
Bolshevik shock troops, mainly the Red Guard worker-militiamen whom 
Kerensky had thoughtlessly armed during the Kornilov scare stealthily in- 
filtrated a number of key positions in the city. The sailors from the cruiser 
Aurora which Kerensky had ordered to the capital in September along 
with some mutinous machine-gun units and other troops joined the Bol- 
sheviks. The bulk of the still-dependable army units with which the govern- 
ment might have crushed the revolt as in July had been removed from the 
vicinity of the capital out of fear of another rightist putsch. The loyal 
forces immediately available in Petrograd were inadequate, and within 
twenty-four hours the government, under bombardment in the Winter Pal- 
ace, from the Aurora, was forced to capitulate. It was probably the Bol- 
sheviks' good luck that while most of the ministers were arrested Kerensky 
managed to escape and reach army headquarters at Pskov. His fiery appeals 
to drive the usurpers out of the capital led to a piecemeal and improvised 
counter-offensive that was doomed before it started. Many of the Russian 
generals who still retained some authority over their troops refused all sup- 
port to the man they considered mainly responsible for the country's mis- 
fortunes, while others were paralyzed by the fear of antagonizing the 
soldiers* Soviets. Finally Kerensky persuaded a Cossack commander, Gen- 
eral P. N. Krasnov, to move on Petrograd with a sketchily equipped 
detachment of some 700 men. Whatever chance Krasnov had of regaining 


control in the capital with this force was lost through delay mainly the 
result of a strike called by the railway workers in the queer belief that they 
were making a useful protest against the Bolshevik coup d'etat. After a 
brief skirmish with a body of Red militia at Tsarskoe Selo, Krasnov's 
Cossacks began to show signs of disaffection, and Kerensky, who was 
accompanying them, gave up the fight, escaping in disguise. (He later 
slipped across the Finnish border with the help of the British agent Bruce 
Lockhart, and vanished into the wings of history.) A Bolshevik rising in 
Moscow to support the Petrograd one barely succeeded in the face of unco- 
ordinated resistance. 

The political victory, like the military one, went to the Bolsheviks largely 
by default. A congress of delegates from all the Soviets in Russia was just 
starting to meet in Petrograd when the Bolsheviks rose against the Provi- 
sional Government. (Trotsky had deliberately timed his coup to coincide 
with the opening of the congress.) Even in this body, representing the revo- 
lutionary elements of the Russian masses, the Bolsheviks could not com- 
mand an absolute majority. They obtained a nominal one when their 
opponents chiefly the Mensheviks and the less extreme Social Revolution- 
arieswalked out in protest against the insurrection instead of remaining 
in the assembly and blocking the Bolshevik attempts to legitimate it. It was 
thus a rump congress consisting only of Bolshevik delegates and the dis- 
sident left wing of the Social Revolutionaries which next day gave the stamp 
of Soviet approval to the new governmental authority, the Council of Peo- 
ple's Commissars, formed and headed by Lenin. The November Revolu- 
tion which was to prove so fateful in its consequences did not seem 
enormously impressiveexcept to its most enthralled adherents while it 
was in progress. The Soviet power that it set up scarcely looked formidable 
to its adversaries. No doubt if the Bolsheviks had conducted themselves 
like their predecessors it would never have proved so. 

As far as Tobolsk was concerned, the fragility of the new authority in 
Petrograd seemed to be demonstrated by its failure to assert itself locally. 
In the first few weeks after the putsch the Tobolsk region turned neither 
Red nor White; like much of the Russian countryside remote from the 
chief industrial centers it remained the same pinkish gray as before. The 
letters that Alexandra was able to continue sending to Anna Vyrubova 
and other friends in the capital until well into 1918 reflect a rising sense of 
personal insecurity and a deepening distress over the plight of Russia, but 
not the impact of a single overriding and irreversible calamity. The resig- 
nation and "meekness" with which her husband continues to bear his trials 
is mentioned in tones that are half admiring, half exasperated. 

Kerensky's two political commissars at Tobolsk presumably became 
Lenin's it was not entirely clear and stayed where they were. More sur- 
prisingly Colonel Kobylinsky neither arrested them in the name of the 


counterrevolutionary authority that was beginning to raise its head in the 
south, nor was arrested by them as an unrepentant monarchist. No orders 
arrived either to execute the former Imperial Family or to return them to 
Petrograd for triaL The Bolsheviks merely suppressed the living allowance 
they had been receiving from the Provisional Government with the painful 
result that the Romanov credit soon ran out in the local shops. By the end 
of the year Alexandra was being kept busy patching and darning her hus- 
band's clothes, knitting wool socks to replace her invalid son's last pair. 
The increasing grimness of life in Tobolsk is reflected by the entry in Nicho- 
las' diary for the last day of 1917 (it was also the last time he wrote in it) : 
"After tea we all parted for the nigftt without waiting for the New Year. 
Lord, my God, save Russia. . ." 

Uncomfortable and dangerous as their situation was, Nicholas and his 
family did not lose heart. Plans to rescue them were nearing fruition or so 
they imagined. The story is fascinating in a way, but like so much Russian 
history, it reads as if it had been laboriously contrived by some third-rate 
dramatist with no flak for the emotional authenticity of his scenes, and few 
scruples about the plausibility of his intrigue; the kind of tragic playwright 
who can take his nemesis but never, never leave it alone. The man on whom 
the Romanovs pinned their hopes was a glib and personable young ad- 
venturer named Boris Soloviev, an army lieutenant formerly attached to 
the staff of a rather left-wing general; he also happened to be the post- 
humous son-in-law (if the term can be used) of Gregory Rasputin. It was 
only in October 1917 that Soloviev married the starets' daughter Matrona, 
who was then living in Tobolsk; a few days later, thanks to his family con- 
nection with the late Man of God, he established contact with the ex- 
Czarina and her husband. Soloviev represented himself to them as the 
accredited agent of a mysterious monarchist underground called the Broth- 
erhood of St John of Tobolsk and explained that he had been sent to Si- 
beria to organize their rescue. He had, of course, no difficulty in convincing 
the Romanovs that their salvation was at hand, and he easily persuaded 
them to have no dealings with any other monarchist groups that might try 
to come to their aid, lest such contacts jeopardize the plans of the Brother- 
hood. The Brothers, Soloviev declared, were assembling around Tiumen, 
the nearest railhead on the Trans-Siberian, and he would establish his own 
headquarters there, coming to Tobolsk from time to time to keep his sov- 
ereigns informed about the progress of the conspiracy for their liberation. 

While the Brotherhood was no doubt largely fictitious, it was not a one- 
man organization. Soloviev had agents in European Russia who demon- 
strated their existence by collecting substantial funds from monarchist 
sympathizers. A scout sent independently to western Siberia by a Petrograd 
group which included Anna Vyrubova came back with the news that 
Rasputin's son-in-law had assumed sole responsibility for rescuing the Im- 


perial Family. On hearing the magic name, Anna urged all her fellow con- 
spirators to avoid any interference with Soloviev's network and to confine 
their activity to raising funds for it. In so doing, she inadvertently helped 
to doom her exiled friends. The emissary of still another monarchist or- 
ganization who reached Tiumen was warned off. by Soloviev and gave up 
the attempt to establish direct contact with the captives in Tobolsk. 

Faith in Soloviev's honesty and competence helped sustain the Roma- 
novs through the bleak Siberian winter, while day by day the physical hard- 
ships of their captivity increased and the attitude of their guards who now 
refused to take orders from anyonebecame more menacing. Alexandra's 
faith was still intact at the end of March 1918 when a detachment of Red 
troops from Omsk, at that time under Bolshevik control, paraded through 
the streets of Tobolsk. The ex-Czarina was convinced that they were mem- 
bers of Soloviev's Brotherhood in disguise. "There go some good Russians," 
she told her maid as the Bolsheviks marched past. 

During the civil war, Soloviev joined the Red Army in Siberia, and was 
later arrested, along with his wife, by the Whites. He finally escaped some- 
how to Berlin, where he turned up in the 1920s. Whether he was a German 
agent, a Bolshevik agent, a confidence man, or simply an irresponsible 
schemer is still obscure. In any case, like his deceased father-in-law, he was 
a curious but deadly instrument of destiny. He made no overt move to get 
the Romanovs away from Tobolsk but his presence in Tiumen effectively 
blocked all other rescue attempts at a time when they had a real chance 
of success. 

Things might have been different, possibly, if the Rasputin scandal had 
not previously split the ranks of Russian monarchists and discredited the 
very idea of the monarchy in the minds of many who had once been its 
loyal supporters. "It is precisely because I knew the monarchy as it really 
was, that I don't want to have anything more to do with ft/ 1 General 
Alexeyev, who was to be one of the chief organizers of the anti-Bolshevik 
counterrevolution, once explained to a monarchist friend. Some leaders of 
the White movement that began to crystallize in southern Russia (and later 
in Siberia) during the winter of 1917-1918 were monarchists, but others 
were socialists; the movement as a whole was not dedicated to putting the 
Romanovs back on the throne, and saving the lives of the former Imperial 
Couple does not seem to have been a high-priority objective in the minds of 
its adherents. 

It is possible that an attempt was made to rescue the ex-Czar and his 
family or at least part of his family after Soloviev dropped out of the 
picture, but that is another queer story. Before going into it, a brief sum- 
mary of events on the main theaters of political and diplomatic action dur- 
ing the first few months of the new Soviet power may prove useful. 


On the day November 8, 1917 Lenin took office as chairman of the 
Provisional Government's revolutionary successor, the Council of People's 
Commissars, his chance of remaining in power for more than a few weeks 
seemed slight. The Bolshevik dictatorship had only the flimsiest juridical 
basis, it possessed no overwhelming military strength, it was hated or de- 
spised by most of the nation's officialdom, and it lacked the support of 
public opinion. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly on November 
25 the date had been fixed before the Bolshevik coup d'etat the Bolshe- 
viks polled a little less than a quarter of the national vote. The chief victors 
were the Social-Revolutionaries who won 370 out of 707 seats, while the 
Bolsheviks won 175, and the dissident left-wing Social-Revolutionaries, 
their only political allies, obtained 40. As Leonard Schapiro observes, more 
than half the country had voted for Socialism, but against Bolshevism. 
In the face of this result Lenin proceeded to demonstrate the essential differ- 
ence between the Bolsheviks and nearly all other Socialists: their contempt 
for democratic principles. When the Constituent Assembly met on January 
18, 1918, and a Bolshevik resolution supported by the dissident Social- 
Revolutionaries, was rejected, Lenin ordered the meeting hall to be occu- 
pied by Red Guards and locked out the delegates. That was the end of 
Russian democracy. "The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly means 
the complete and open repudiation of the democratic idea in favor of the 
dictatorship concept," Lenin declared with his customary brutal frankness. 
From that time all overt opposition to the new despotism would be con- 
sidered as counterrevolutionary. And to meet the threat of "counterrevolu- 
tion" the Bolsheviks had already forged the weapon of revolutionary terror 
in the form of the special security committees that were soon to be known 
as the Cheka. "Do not believe that I am concerned with formal justice," 
warned the first head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, the strange Polish 
fanatic who was to be the Grand Inquisitor of the Bolshevik regime. "... I 
demand the forging of the revolutionary sword that will annihilate all 
counter-revolutionaries!" 2 

Lenin, of course, was too intelligent to rely on terror alone. While pre- 
paring to crush his left-wing rivals by force he had already appropriated 
one of the key planks in the Social-Revolutionary platform which the Bol- 
sheviks had earlier condemned as demagogic. Instead of nationalizing pri- 
vately owned land in accordance with orthodox Bolshevik doctrine, Lenin 
had promulgated a decree simply authorizing the village committees to seize 
and distribute it among the peasants which they had already started doing 
without authorization before the Bolsheviks came in. Above all Lenin 
counted on the magic in the word "peace." In his first address to the Con- 

2 Quoted by Georg von Ranch in A History of Soviet Russia (Praeger 1958) from 
the Soviet writer N. Zubov. The quote from Lenin in the same paragraph is also taken 
from von Rauch, citing Trotsky. 


gress of Soviets on November 8, he had called on all the belligerent gov- 
ernments to open negotiations for a "just and democratic peace" without 
annexations or indemnities. A "peace decree" along these lines was sol- 
emnly published by the Soviet government and its provisions embodied in 
a diplomatic note dispatched to all belligerents by Trotsky in his new 
capacity as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The note specifically 
proposed negotiations for a general armistice. When Russia's allies dis- 
regarded the proposal, the Soviet Government, on December 15, concluded 
a separate four-week armistice with Germany and Austria-Hungary. 

Formal peace negotiations between Russian and the Central powers got 
under way at Brest-Litovsk, a railhead in western Russia then occupied by 
the Germans, on December 22. They were destined to leave a traumatic im- 
print upon the personality of the emerging Soviet power at the same time 
that they helped to transmit the revolutionary virus into the bloodstream 
of the Kaiser's Empire. 

The Russian delegation was headed first by A. Joffe, then by Trotsky 
himself. Both he and Lenin, despite the realism on which they prided them- 
selves, had no realization of the trap into which they were walking. They 
took it for granted that the proletariat of the Western world would follow 
the revolutionary example of their Russian brothers within a matter of 
months or even weeks; in the meantime they counted on the German 
workers to exert irresistible pressure upon the Kaiser's generals and diplo- 
mats. Perhaps, too, the earlier clandestine contacts between the German 
government and certain of their comrades had given them a misleading 
impression of the peace conditions that the Germans were prepared to 
offer or accept. 

For the Bolsheviks, the awakening was terrible. As a starter the Central 
Powers demanded that Russia cede Poland and the Baltic territories. Rec- 
ognition of Finnish independence was soon added to the conditions. Then 
came the crusher: Russia must also recognize the independence of the 
Ukraine, which had been proclaimed by the anti-Bolshevik and pro-Ger- 
man local government in Kiev on January 1. Some of the Austrian and 
even German delegates felt that the precarious Soviet regime was being 
strained to the breaking point, but this did not worry General Ludendorff, 
the occult dictator of Germany and the real author of the Brest-Litovsk 
diktat. "Paranoia had him [Ludendorff] in its grip," declares John W. 
Wheeler-Bennett in his masterly Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, and 
the diagnosis seems plausible. Ludendorff's ultimate aim was the total dis- 
memberment of Russia and though this objective implied the final liquida- 
tion of the Romanov dynasty it had seemingly been approved by the Kaiser. 
In fact, according to Wheeler-Bennett, a dangerous rivalry had developed 
among the minor German royal or princely houses over the distribution 
of the expected Eastern spoils; the Duke of Urach in Wurttemberg, for 


example, was claiming the crown of Lithuania, Prince Friedrich Karl of 
Hesse that of Finland, and Wilhelm was planning to reserve for himself the 
title of Duke of Courland (subsequently Latvia). 

Bolshevik demagogy had disintegrated the Russian army as a force-in- 
being, and the Soviet government was virtually at the mercy of the victo- 
rious Germans. In a feeble attempt to exert counterpressure the Bolsheviks 
intensified revolutionary agitation and propaganda among German or 
Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war held in Russia a fateful step from the 
long-term viewpoint, but one without significant immediate results. Trotsky 
meanwhile used all the resources of his cunning to drag out the negotia- 
tions. Finally on March 3 after the German armies had resumed their 
advance, and were nearing Petrograd, the Soviet government accepted Lu- 
dendorfFs terms, signing away more than a quarter of Russia's national 
territory and some 75 per cent of her coal and steel plants. 

The dissident Social Revolutionaries resigned from the government in 
protest against accepting such conditions, and the Bolsheviks themselves 
were badly split. Lenin had the greatest difficulty in persuading Trotsky 
to give up his dreams of resisting the German Army by sabotage and guer- 
rilla warfare. The Whites in the south, encouraged by the demonstration of 
Bolshevik weakness and enraged by what they considered the Bolshevik 
betrayal of the national cause openly raised the standard of counterrevolu- 
tion, with French and British support. 

By the spring of 1918 sizable White forces, led first by Alexeyev and 
Kornilov, then by Generals Krasnov and Anton Denikin, advanced from 
the northern Caucasus into the Don Basin, while Japanese military inter- 
vention in support of the local anti-Bolshevik forces began in die Far 
Eastern provinces. A combined British-Russian intervention force took 
shape on the Arctic coast at Murmansk. The Russian civil war, one of the 
most decisive conflicts in modern history and also one of the cruelest was 
under way. It was to rage back and forth across the former empire of the 
Czarsand even into some neighboring territories until 1921, leaving 
famine and pestilence in its wake. 

Opposed within his own party, repudiated by his only allies, under armed 
attack by his counterrevolutionary enemies, Lenin, who had moved the 
seat of the government to Moscow in March 1918, realized that in submit- 
ting to the peace of Brest-Litovsk, Soviet Russia became for the time being 
a hostage of Imperial Germany. The Bolshevik power could only survive 
as long as the German Army was willing to see it survive. A policy of 
co-operation, almost of partnership, with Germany was therefore a vital ne- 
cessity from the short-term viewpoint; from the long-term viewpoint dis- 
creet preparations for renewing the struggle against the oppressor, possibly 
with Allied help, and for throwing off the chains of Brest-Litovsk were no 
less essential. 


The German attitude toward the Bolsheviks was even more complicated. 
Indeed, like the German attitude toward the "liberated" populations of the 
Soviet Union in World War II, a quarter of a century later, it was com- 
pounded of so many contradictory guiles and greeds that it was finally 
incoherent. In order to release as many troops as possible for transfer to 
the western front, and to insure a steady flow of grain and other raw mate- 
rials, it was imperative to avoid any new exactions that might goad the 
Soviet government into denouncing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk; in fact it 
might be necessary to shore up the Soviets with financial and economic 
assistance (which the Germans did actually provide during the summer of 
1918) to make sure that they were not replaced by a more hostile regime. 
PLEASE USE LARGER SUMS the German Secretary of State (Foreign Minis- 
ter) wired Count Mirbach, the Kaiser's special Ambassador to the Soviet 
government, in May 1918, AS rr is GREATLY IN OUR INTEREST THAT THE 
BOLSHEVIKS SHOULD SURVIVE. At the same time Ludendorff was determined 
to keep the Bolsheviks weak, so that they would be easy to liquidate after 
Germany had won the war in the West, and in the meantime he wanted 
to squeeze every possible drop of blood out of them. Ludendorffs Soviet 
policy was a large-scale version of the human-icebox technique by which 
Papuan cannibals keep their captives alive while progressively slicing off 
pieces of their flesh. Thus while the large German mission in Moscow 
where the government had established itself in March 1918 backed the 
Soviets against the counterrevolutionary authorities in the south, whom the 
Allies were supporting, the German forces in Finland and in the Ukraine 
and eventually in the Caucasus helped the local anti-Bolshevik govern- 
ments to fight the Reds who were loyal to the central government. 

Ideological factors naturally aggravated the imbroglio. Most of the 
White leaders were pro-Allied, but some were ready to accept support from 
any quarter and a few were actively pro-German. From the German view- 
point these were worth building up as a sort of second team to put in in 
case the Bolsheviks proved unco-operative or were overthrown. But the 
pro-German Whites were nearly all monarchists and restoring the Romanov 
dynasty might seriously hamper the ultimate German plan for dismember- 
ing Russia. 

"Famine is on the way and is being choked off with terror," the counselor 
of the German mission wrote at the beginning of June in an informal re- 
port that vividly sketched the difficulties of the Bolshevik situation and 
urged making a deal with their likely successors. "People are quietly shot 
by the hundred. All this in itself is not so bad, but there can be no doubt 
that the physical means with which the Bolsheviks are maintaining their 
power are running out ... To facilitate the restoration of a Russia which 
would again be imperialist is not a pleasant perspective, but the develop- 
ment may perhaps be inevitable." 


Even Ludendorff agreed that a new approach might be necessary. 

"Though we now negotiate only with the Soviet government," he wrote 
on June 9, ". . . We have to acquire contacts with the right-wing monarch- 
ist groups and influence them so that the monarchist movement would be 
governed by our wishes as soon as it gained influence." 

Such was the complex background to the last act in the tragedy of the 

Though the swift Tobol River was still frozen and the snow still lay deep 
under the dark pines, spring was on its way to Tobolsk, bringing with it 
the magic sense of resurrection that is felt only in the High North at the 
breaking of winter, when an ominous new development was reported to the 
ex-Czar and his family. On April 22, 1918, a special representative of the 
Moscow government had marched into Tobolsk at the head of 150 Red 
soldiers. The town had been under full Bolshevik control for more than a 
month; in fact it was occupied by two rival Bolshevik detachments, one 
from Omsk and one from Ekaterinburg (today Sverdlovsk) in the Urals. 
In addition, the Imperial Family's special guard had formed its own soviet 
and chased away the two commissars sent by Kerensky (the soldiers re- 
mained, however, on speaking terms with their nominal commander 
Colonel Kobylinsky ) . The new commissar, a returned 6migr6 named Vas- 
sffi Yakovlev, was greeted with suspicion on all sides, but he had an impres- 
sive collection of written orders signed by the Bolshevik Central Committee 
enjoining the local authorities to give him full co-operation in carrying out 
an important special mission and authorizing him to shoot on the spot 
anyone who disobeyed him. The mission, he informed Kobylinsky, was to 
conduct the former Imperial Family to another place, which he declined 
to name. Yakovlev told the same story to the Tobolsk Soviet and to the 
soldiers of the special guard. Though he stubbornly refused to reveal where 
he had been ordered to take the Romanovs he gave the impression that it 
was to Moscow, where they would stand trial. 

To Nicholas and Alexandra, with whom he had a private and confiden- 
tial interview of April 25, he dropped some rather different hints. On the 
basis of this talk Nicholas seems to have come to the conclusion that 
Yakovlev was a German agent disguised as a Bolshevik commissar and 
that his real mission was to deliver the Romanovs to the Germans for some 
sinister political purpose. Alexandra was even more explicit in her suspi- 
cions. She was convinced that the Germans wanted to get hold of her hus- 
band to obtain his signature to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. "I mustn't 
leave him [Nicholas] alone at such a moment," she said to Gilliard, her 
son's Swiss tutor. 'They want to bring hint to sign something ignominious 
by threats against his family. It's my duty to keep that from happening." 
So strong was Alexandra's feeling of danger, not so much to her husband's 


life as to his honor, that she decided to leave the next day, April 26, with 
him and Yakovlev, temporarily abandoning her children including the 
invalid Alexis who was in a serious condition from a recent fall until 
Yakovlev could return for them. Finally her daughter Marie and six fol- 
lowers were added to the party. 

The trip was a dramatic one, marked by several puzzling incidents. 
Yakovlev seemed desperately anxious to avoid passing through Ekaterin- 
burg, whose Soviet had been demanding the imprisonment of the Ro- 
manovs. He first tried to reach European Russia on another and more 
roundabout line through Omsk, but the special train he had requisitioned 
was stopped by Red Guards before he could get there and when he wired 
Moscow for instructions he was ordered to proceed via Ekaterinburg. On 
arrival in the station of Ekaterinburg, April 30, the whole party was put 
under arrest. Yakovlev's soldiers were disarmed and locked up, while the 
Romanovs were kept under strong guard in a house that had formerly be- 
longed to a local merchant. Yakovlev waved his orders in front of the 
Ekaterinburg Soviet without avail. Finally he left alone for Moscow, threat- 
ening to return and punish the saboteurs of his mission. That was the last 
heard of the strange commissar, except for a wire signed with his name 
which was sent from Moscow a few days later to the members of his de- 
tachment who had remained behind in Tobolsk: ASSEMBLE DETACHMENT 


No evidence has turned up to support the theory that Yakovlev was ac- 
tually a German agent, and there is no trace of any serious German at- 
tempt to assure the safety of the ex-Czar and his family, much less to rescue 
them. But it seems likely that the whole confused story of the abortive 
Yakovlev mission was connected in some way as yet unrevealed both 
with factional rivalries or policy disputes at the highest Bolshevik levels 
and with German clandestine intrigue in Russia. 

For the Romanovs the house in Ekaterinburg was the end of the line. 
It was a big, white two-story structure, dingy and pretentious, like dirty 
underwear beneath a starched shirt, built against the slope of a hill so that 
the ground floor was really a kind of cellar. The house had a second-floor 
veranda across the whole width, and a mean little yard, enclosed by a 
wooden palisade, where Nicholas took his exercise every day. Often he 
carried the ailing Alexis in his arms as he walked, (The children who had 
remained behind in Tobolsk rejoined their parents in Ekaterinburg on May 
23.) Most of the uniforms that Nicholas had brought to Siberia with him 
were now lost or worn out and to avoid the jeers of his guards he usually 
wore plain trousers of some sort and a soldier's khaki tunic, without offi- 
cer's shoulderboards. Whatever he wore, he always managed to look neat 
and dignified; his frowsy local militia guards were impressed in spite of 
themselves, though not to the point of following his example. 


Nicholas, Alexandra, and their son slept in one bedroom, the girls an- 
other. The faithful Dr. Botkin and five servants shared the Romanov's 
captivity. Family and servants ate together out of a common pot in the 
merchant's dining room and the guards who lounged about the room 
helped themselves as they felt like it over the shoulders of the diners. The 
guards frequently got drunk and baited their prisoners by singing revolu- 
tionary or bawdy songs under their window, and sometimes they followed 
the girls down the corridor when they went to the toilet, teasing them with 
coarse jokes, but there was no systematic mistreatment of the family. Al- 
most up to the end a priest was allowed in on Sundays to celebrate mass for 
them. The daily routine of life at Ekaterinburg was simple. The whole 
family rose about eight, then gathered together for prayers. Dinner was at 
3 P.M. After a walk in the yard they had their meager supper at 9 P.M. and 
retired for the night. Nicholas did a great deal of reading, while Alexandra 
and her daughters busied themselves with needlework. Sometimes they all 
sang together. 

Witnesses including both the servants and several of the guards or local 
Bolshevik authorities who were later interrogated by the Whites agreed 
that Nicholas and Alexandra bore themselves up to the end not only with 
dignity, but with every appearance of serenity. The affectionate tranquillity 
of their family life remained unbroken by the frustrations and strains of 
what was virtually a prison existence. The preoccupation with domestic 
rather than official duties that had been one of their grave failings as mon- 
archs now helped to ennoble what would otherwise have been a sordid 
experience. Of the manly virtues, the only one that Nicholas possessed to 
any outstanding degree was fortitude; in Ekaterinburg it was the only one 
he needed. Alexandra had been a domineering matriarch; with her dreams 
of power shattered and her husband and children at the mercy of others, 
maternal solicitude rose above her possessiveness. 

The ordeal of the Romanovs must have been all the harder on their 
nerves because rescue was so near at hand; yet the nearer it approached 
the more deadly became their peril. The White forces under Denikin were 
advancing into the politically unsettled area between the Volga and the 
Urals. At the end of May the Czechoslovak Legion, 40,000 strong, which 
had started withdrawing through Siberia toward Vladivostok after the 
peace of Brest-Litovsk, turned upon the Bolsheviks, who had foolishly 
tried to disarm them, and launched an offensive westward. Almost imme- 
diately there was a general anti-Bolshevik rising in Siberia and in eastern 
Russia, Day by day, the Czechs, reinforced by local White partisans, drew 
nearer to Ekaterinburg. Lenin knew that the town's capture by the Whites 
was inevitable and he apparently feared that the rescue of the former Im- 
perial Family especially that of the little Alexis whom many monarchists 
continued to look on as the legitimate heir to the throne would give in- 


creased cohesion to the counterrevolutionary movement (actually it might 
have had just the contrary effect). Moreover, relations between the Bolshe- 
viks and the Germans were beginning to spoil as a result of the increasingly 
close contact between the Germans and right-wing Russian monarchists. 
Consequently it no longer mattered so much how the Kaiser might react to 
the news that his cousin Nicky and above all the German born Alexandra 
had been murdered or executed by the Bolsheviks. Concern over this 
point may have been the chief reason why they were not killed earlier. 

The final development which, somewhat paradoxically decided the fate 
of the Romanovs was an anti-Bolshevik rising by the Social-Revolution- 
aries, the ancient foes of the monarchy, now fiercely opposed to the new 
Leninist despotism and inflamed with patriotic as well as libertarian passion. 
Organized by the arch-terrorist and master conspirator Boris Savinkov, 
who had helped plan the murder of Grand Duke Sergius in 1905, financed 
by French money, supported by certain liberal groups, but inadequately co- 
ordinated with other White movements, the insurrection broke out in the 
new capital, Moscow, on July 6, with the assassination of the German 
Ambassador, Count Mirbach (provoking a break between the Soviet gov- 
ernment and the Germans was one of the insurgents* objectives). It quickly 
spread to 23 other centers and for a few days threatened the Bolshevik 
power. Lenin probably saved his regime by the ferocity as well as by the 
speed of his riposte. He not only stamped out the rebellion wherever it 
blazed up but in a psychological sense scorched the earth around it by 
ordering a pitiless mass terror aimed at cowing all the elements in the coun- 
try who might be tempted to support a counterrevolution from any quarter. 
As far as the Cheka's arm could reach across the Russian countryside it 
rounded up kulaks (so-called wealthy peasants) along with nobles, priests, 
former officers, and bourgeois of every category and on Lenin's personal 
orders shot them in more or less random batches, first by the hundreds, 
then by the thousands. The Romanovs especially the former Czar were 
perhaps the most innocuous subjects of the Bolshevik dictatorship, but they 
were a prominent symbol of the past and in the public mind their execution 
would serve to punctuate the terror with a bloody exclamation point. That, 
apparently was the decisive reason for ordering it. 

The actual slaughtering that is the best word for it was carried out by 
a Cheka squad, under the command of an officer named Yurovsky, which 
on orders from Moscow had replaced the local guards early in July. About 
midnight on the nigjit of July 16-17 Yurovsky roused Nicholas and his 
family, ordering them to dress and move down to one of the ground-floor 
cellar rooms on the pretext that fighting in the streets of Ekaterinburg was 
imminent, (The Czechs and Whites did as a matter of fact take the city 
on July 25.) When Nicholas, holding Alexis in his arms, Alexandra, their 
four daughters, their doctor, and three servants were all assembled in the 


sinister little room, Yurovsky hastily read out the sentence of death, then 
without further warning drew his revolver and fired point-blank at Nicho- 
las. That was the signal for the massacre. Alexis and one of the girls were 
not quite dead when the murder squad had used up its ammunition and 
had to be finished off with bayonets. The Romanov children's little dog was 
similarly dispatched for good measure. The bodies were then hastily 
searched for documents and jewelry. After that they were piled on a truck 
and taken to a deserted crossroads in a nearby wood where they were 
splashed with gasoline and set afire. The charred remains were buried in a 
pit. When it was all over a cipher message was sent to Moscow; INFORM 


The following night, My 18, five Grand Dukes of the Romanov family 
and two Grand Duchesses one of whom was Alexandra's sister, Elizabeth 
were put to death under similar conditions not far from Ekaterinburg. 
Nicholas' brother, Grand Duke Michael in whose favor he had abdicated 
had been kidnaped several days earlier from the hotel in Perm, west of 
Ekaterinburg, where he was being detained, and presumably was also mur- 
dered. The two Romanovs who had avoided internment survived to lead 
and to split the monarchist movement in Russia. They were the late 
Czar's uncle, Grand Duke Nicholas, the paladin of traditionalist elements, 
and the more liberal Grand Duke Cyril, a cousin of the deposed ruler. 

The Russian people learned of the ex-Czar's execution through a brief 
official press release from Moscow on July 19 announcing that "sentence 
of death had been passed on Nicholas Romanov and carried out" by the 
Ekaterinburg Soviet. It is now admitted, even in the USSR, that in reality 
it was Lenin himself who ordered the execution, while another member of 
the central government, Jacob Sverdlov, was responsible for co-ordinating 
the details with the local authorities in Ekaterinburg. Nothing was ever 
said officially about the killing of the Czarina and the Romanov children. 
When the counselor of the German diplomatic mission in Moscow regis- 
tered a platonic protest at the execution of Nicholas and inquired about the 
fate of the rest of the family he was given to understand that they were being 
moved from Ekaterinburg to a safer place. Inspired rumors and news leaks 
to the same effect were put out, and later similar techniques were used to 
create the impression that the Romanov Grand Dukes who had been killed 
in or near Perm had actually escaped and somehow ^disappeared in the 
confusion of the civil war. 

There is no need to shed tears for any of the Romanovs, and it is hard 
to glamorize them as martyrs to a lost (and intrinsically abominable) cause, 
though we can properly respect the memory of Alexandra and Nicholas as 
belated exemplars of the Victorian tradition. They were two passengers, 
at least, who kept their manners and did not rush for the lifeboats when 


their world started going down. The Romanov family was not the only 
family massacred during the Russian civil war, and as always in such strug- 
gles, each side had its atrocities, its martyrs and its butchers. In the murders 
of Ekaterinburg and Perm it was not the Trillings themselves that were sig- 
nificant, nor even the identities of the victims from the viewpoint of the 
ultimate political outcome in Russia it probably made little difference 
whether most of the Romanovs lived or died but their style. They bear 
the characteristic stamp of twentieth-century totalitarianismor more ex- 
actly of the anti-civilization fostered by the twentieth-century totalitarianism 
and this was neither an accident, nor a mere symbol. The personality of 
governmental systems like that of individuals is the product not only of 
their environment, but of their reaction to it. The policy murder of Ekate- 
rinburg was one of the normative reactions that helped shape the personal- 
ity of the Soviet regime for the next two generations. In a sense akin to 
primitive magic it was also the consecration of the new rulers. It made 
them authentic successors of the vanished dynasty, lawful heirs to the 
Romanov tradition of the "block, the rope and poison." 


Exit the Hohenzollerns 

WHOEVER sets fire to his neighbor's house cannot com- 
plain if the sparks land on his own roof," says a German 
proverb. Whether any of the military or civilian witch doctors who organ- 
ized Lenin's return to Russia in the famous sealed train of April 1917 
remembered the saying at the time is uncertain; they had numerous occa- 
sions to recall it when, a bare year later, His Excellency, the Ambassador of 
the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Comrade Adolf Joffe, arrived in 
Berlin to take possession of the long-empty Russian Embassy at 7 Unter 
den Linden. As head of the Soviet delegation which had concluded the 
peace negotiations with Germany at Brest-Litovsk six weeks earlier, Joffe 
was a logical choice for the assignment. The first Soviet Ambassador to the 
Kaiser's Court and government, he was also an admirable one from the 
Soviet viewpoint. With his sensitive, Semitic face, his dark professorial 
beard, his gold pince-nez, his fur-collared overcoat topped with a bowler 
hat, the emissary of the proletarian revolution had a reassuringly bourgeois 
look, but appearances could not have been more deceptive. A close friend 
of Trotsky from the latter*s Vienna period, Joffe belonged to the same type 
of intellectual condottiere that had played such an important part in or- 
ganizing the October revolution, and lie the famous Red commissar, he 
was a daring professional conspirator who had been playing hide and seek 
with the gallows for years. Trotsky, in fact, had pulled him out of a prison 
camp in Siberia to direct the peace delegation. 

The new ambassador had arrived with a staff of three hundred. His first 
official act was to hoist the hammer and sickle over the embassy; he refused 
to present his credentials personally to the Kaiser, and on the list of the 
guests invited to his first dinner party were the names of two left-wing 
German socialists serving prison terms for sedition and treason: Karl Lieb- 


knecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The Soviet Embassy soon became a head- 
quarters for the Independent Socialists and other revolutionaries who later 
formed Germany's first Communist Party. The group's clandestine "Letters 
of Spartacus" had spread anti-war propaganda ever since 1916. The circu- 
lation of these tracts now increased considerably, and no less than seven 
independent Socialist newspapers were supported by the vast funds which 
Joffe dispensed for propaganda purposes. Curiously undiplomatic-looking 
attach6s of the embassy constantly traveled back and forth between Mos- 
cow and Berlin fully protected by diplomatic immunity; diplomatic usage 
did not, however, prevent members of Joffe's staff from appearing at Ger- 
man left-wing meetings where they harangued increasingly feverish audi- 
ences in increasingly fiery terms. 

The amount of curiously shaped baggage traveling as "diplomatic 
pouch" from Moscow to Berlin worried the German government, which 
knew that both subversive pamphlets and arms were being distributed to 
the left-wing extremists by 7 Unter den Linden. Joffe scarcely bothered to 
hide his role as agitator; he himself later wrote, "It is necessary to em- 
phasize most categorically that in the preparation of the German revolution, 
the Russian Embassy worked all the time in close contact with the German 

Ludendorff and Hoffmann had voiced misgivings from the first over in- 
troducing the Bolshevik Trojan horse into the German capital. Eventually 
even the Wilhelmstrasse, and the Imperial Chancellery, along with the 
moderate Socialists, came around to the view that it was a mistake to let 
the Bolsheviks have a diplomatic mission in Germany before a general 
peace was signed. Hampered by diplomatic usage from collecting the evi- 
dence that would have justified a rupture, the German authorities finally hit 
on an ingenious but desperate expedient: the police planted a package of 
faked and flagrantly subversive propaganda tracts in the Russian "pouch" 
and arranged to have it dropped in the railway station so that it burst open. 

Joffe and his whole staff were expelled on November 7, 1918. By then 
their work had been done. The departing Soviet Ambassador, in his own 
"sealed train," must have remembered with a satisfied smile a dinner party 
he had given a few days ago. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, re- 
cently released from jail, had been present, and toasts were drunk to a 
naval mutiny which had broken out at Kiel. ("Even at that early date," 
remarks the British historian John Wheeler-Bennett, "the Bolshevik diplo- 
mats had established a reputation for the excellent quality of their cham- 
pagne.") Karl Liebknecht had not believed that the time was ripe yet for 
the final revolution. "On the contrary," Joffe had said, "within a week the 
Red flag wfll be flying over the Berliner Schloss." 

Joffe's subversive activities were, of course, only one element in Ger- 
many's breakdown. His gifts as a technician of conspiracy contributed 


significantly to the German revolution, but the impact of Russian Bolshe- 
vism in Central and even in Western Europe after 1917 cannot be 
explained solely in terms of subversive propaganda or manipulations, how- 
ever massive, however adroit. To a continent wracked by the most sui- 
cidal and the most senseless of modern wars, the fierce light of revolution 
blazing in the Eastern sky seemed the dawn-glow of a new hope for mar- 
tyred humanity. Lenin's unwavering opposition to the war, underscored 
by the Soviet government's appeal for an immediate peace without an- 
nexations or reparations, had given him immense prestige in the eyes of 
Western intellectuals, including some Rosa Luxemburg among them who 
recognized and condemned the anti-democratic tendencies inherent in the 
Bolshevik dictatorship. The political dynamism of the Bolshevik ideal could 
be measured by the quality of Lenin's earliest sympathizers or adherents 
abroad; in many cases the most committed ones belonged to the elite of 
the European labor or socialist movements, and a few years later were to 
become the intransigent adversaries of post-Leninist Communism. The 
prisoners of war who started streaming back into Germany from Russia 
after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk also helped to spread the virus of revolu- 
tionary defeatism; some of them had been systematically indoctrinated with 
Bolshevik propaganda, but many more had been brainwashed by the or- 
deal of captivity itself, or had been spontaneously won over by the delivery 
of revolution. Their influence both on the civilian population and on the 
exhausted troops fighting off the final Allied onslaughts in the West was 
disastrous. Under the spell of such slogans as "Peace and Bread," whole 
units gave themselves up to the Allies without resistance in August 1918 
and retreating troops jeeringly called reservists coming up to relieve them 

War weariness, subversion, and treason, however, did not of themselves 
bring about the German collapse in November 1918. Only when Germany 
had been militarily defeated in the field, only when the High Command 
publicly proclaimed defeat by suing for an armistice, did the exhausted 
population, so worn out by four years of privation and a diet of nauseous 
ersatz foods that workers fainted in the factories, lose faith both in victory 
and authority. And only then did the ingrained habits of obedience give 
way beneath the incitements of revolutionary propaganda. 

In March 1918, with Russia knocked out of the war and with American 
troops still mostly at the training camps, the German HCgh Command had 
unleashed the "Kaiser's Battle" which was to be the final and fatal offen- 
sive against the Allies on the Western Front. The pompous name given 
this attack or rather series of attacks turned out, however, to be an in- 
judicious compliment to the All Highest None of tile sledgehammer blows 
delivered against the Allies proved decisive. By July the tide began to turn, 


and General Ludendorff , faced with the growing buildup of fresh American 
troops on one hand General Pershing already had 19 infantry divisions at 
the front in early August and with the dwindling of German reserves on 
the other, privately conceded that all hope of victory in the field was gone. 
But he would do nothing to prepare peace, and he refused to inform the 
government "The Wilhelmstrasse is frightened enough now; if they knew 
the true military situation it would be a catastrophe," he said. Obstinately 
the High Command, whose dictatorship over the government and even over 
the Kaiser, was complete, continued to maintain that ''there is no ground 
for doubting our victory." 

By September all the gains of the great spring offensive had been lost, and 
the outer bastions of the Central Powers were crumbling everywhere. Aus- 
tria was beginning to buckle, and, on September 26, Bulgaria dropped out 
of the war. 

Suddenly, LudendorlFs nerves gave way. The Great General Headquar- 
ters of the German Army was in the little Belgian watering resort of Spa, 
famous for its mineral springs. In the late afternoon of September 28, the 
faint buzz of conversation, heel-clicking and spur-jangling which had re- 
placed the peacetime clinking of teacups under the potted palms in the hall 
of the Hotel Britannique was suddenly hushed as General Ludendorff, 
escorted by his aides, his face gray above the "pour le Merite" cross at his 
throat, made his way to Marshal Hindenburg's office. Gaspingly he told 
the Marshal, who looked more than ever like a wood carving of a St 
Bernard dog, that an armistice must be concluded immediately, and that 
a new German government capable of obtaining favorable terms on the 
basis of President Wilson's Fourteen Points must be formed at once. 

Next day, the Chief of the General Staff and his Quartermaster Gen- 
eral, bent on a painful mission, showed up at the Kaiser's villa, a large, 
turreted, gabled, balconied and ivy overgrown structure in the neo-Norman 
style still seen on Long Island estates today. It lay in more than 100 acres 
of beautifully kept grounds on a hill outside Spa and had been requisitioned 
from a Belgian senator and textile magnate. Much of the furnishing came 
from the Belgian royal palace of Laeken. A concrete bomb shelter that 
could be entered from the cellar, with an emergency exit through an under- 
ground tunnel ending in a clump of trees had been built for the All Highest 
Wilhelm felt much happier in these holiday surroundings at Spa than at 
Berlin, where, it was said, **the pavement burnt the soles of his feet." He 
clung to the fiction of the Supreme War Lord, at the head of his armies. 
Pictures appeared from time to time in the newspapers, showing him visiting 
the trenches, wrapped in a field gray coat, and wearing the famous spiked 
helmet so dear to Allied cartoonists. Most of them were taken not far from 
the villa, where a trench had been dug and decorated with sand bags for 


the purpose. 1 In a moment of pathetic self-recognition he once confided 
to a visitor at headquarters: "The General Staff tells me nothing and asks 
me nothing. If anyone in Germany thinks I lead the army, they are quite 
mistaken. I drink tea, chop wood and take walks, and from time to time 
I hear that this and that has been done, according to the wishes of those 

According to all accounts, the Kaiser received the news that the German 
armies were defeated and that an armistice must be promptly obtained with 
unusual dignity. The decision to proclaim a parliamentary regime and to 
form a new government was taken easily, since the General Staif said it 
was needed, although the Kaiser countered LudendorfFs frantic pleas for 
haste with some asperity. "You could have told me all this a fortnight 
ago," he said. "I can't work miracles." 

"Wilhelm II had never opposed the High Command's wishes, nor did he 
demur when it chose to transfer the responsibility of defeat to others, to 
burden the Reichstag parties with the odium of making the catastrophe 
palatable to their own people and to conclude a disappointing peace with 
the enemy," writes the Swiss historian, J. R. von Salis. On the contrary, 
when the new chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, shocked by the icy wind 
of panic which blew straight from Spa, objected that so much haste seemed 
impolitic, and suggested that the military situation might not be all that 
bad, the Kaiser told him sharply ". . . you have not been brought here to 
make difficulties for the Supreme Command." 

Prince Max, a cousin of the Kaiser's, a grandson of Czar Nicholas I and 
next in succession to the throne of the Grand Duchy of Baden, was an 
urbane man with well-tempered liberal ideas. On October 4 his government, 
which was for the first time in German history composed of responsible 
ministers and included such Socialist leaders as Philip Scheidemann and 
Gustav Bauer, 2 appealed to President Wilson for an armistice on the basis 
of the Fourteen Points via the Swiss government thus informing the Ger- 
man people and the world at large that Germany had lost the war. 

It is likely that neither Ludendorff nor Hindenburg had seriously read 
Wilson's speeches. An armistice was needed to save the German Army 
from destruction. Peace would be a matter of negotiation, they thought. 

1 Shortly before his abdication it was felt that the Kaiser might regain a measure 
of popularity if he went for a visit to a really exposed part of the front. He consented 
without enthusiasm and returned with harrowing accounts of the ordeal; several bombs 
had dropped not far from the imperial train. 

"Cowards die many times before their deaths; 

"The valiant never taste of death but once," 

he quoted to his entourage in lofty, if slightly strained tones. Actually he had not been 
beyond the rear depots. 

2 When the Kaiser received his first Socialist Ministers he is reported to have said 
"T have nothing whatever against Social Democracy except its name. The name, you 
know, must be changed." 


But now the ground upon which they stood crumbled. By their demarche 
they had utterly destroyed the morale of the German people. The soldiers in 
the trenches who had suffered terrible losses ever since the KaisersMacht 
had been launched could see no reason to procrastinate. What stood in the 
way of peace? On October 14, a note of President Wilson gave them the 
answer, by drawing attention to one of his conditions: "The destruction of 
every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly and of its sin- 
gle choice disturb the peace of the world." 

That this meant the German monarchy first became clear to big business; 
the Kaiser's abdication would buy a better peace, it was felt Wilhelm's 
abdication was soon the subject of conversations and arguments every- 
where, in government offices, drawing rooms, political meetings, streetcars. 
Everywhere but in the press, where every mention of it was censured. At 
the rallies of the extreme left, cries of "Down with the Kaiser" became as 
loud as the cries for peace. 

In the hope of saving the Hohenzollern dynasty Prince Max proposed 
that the Kaiser should give up the throne at once, not in favor of the Crown 
Prince who among other liabilities was saddled with formal responsibility 
for the disastrous Verdun offensive but in favor of the Crown Prince's 
twelve-year-old son, Prince Wilhelm. The Kaiser would have none of it. To 
escape the pressure building up against him in Berlin, he returned to Spa, 
where he still had the support of the High Command. Prince Max sent him 
one emissary after another to plead that he abdicate. "How can you, a 
Prussian official, reconcile such a mission with the oath of loyalty you have 
taken to your king?" the irate Kaiser asked one of them, a Prussian minister, 
on November 1. But it was later than the Kaiser realized. 

On October 28 a naval mutiny broke out in Wflhelmshaven. On Novem- 
ber 1 it spread to the High Seas Fleet in Kiel. By November 4 full-fledged 
revolution had broken out in all of northern Germany. 

The city of Kiel lies at the end of a picturesque Baltic fjord and over- 
looks one of the best natural deep water harbors in Europe. In pre-war 
days tourists admired the gold and white splendor of the Hohenzollern, 
riding at anchor, always ready to receive the Kaiser and his suite. He spent 
much time in Kiel, where he liked to play host to the great and the rich, 
surrounded by the symbol of Germany's world power, his shiny toy, the 
German Navy. 

The picture on November 4, 1918, was a little different. The navy was 
there, practically unscathed. It had been tucked away ever since the battle 
of Jutland, in June 1916. For more than two years the crews had swabbed 
decks, polished brass, and saluted irritable officers. But now the Red flag 
flew from the masts of the grim, battle-gray warships, thousands of muti- 
nous sailors were parading through the streets of the city, singing the 
Marseillaise, and the flags they were carrying were blood colored, too. Few 


officers were in evidence, and those who were, were disarmed and had red 
cockades pinned on their uniforms. A number of U-boats loyal to the 
Kaiser fled the harbor; the crews of the others formed the first soviet of 
the German revolution, which in the next few days was to engulf all the 
coastal cities of northern Germany. 

The mutiny had been sparked a week earlier, on October 28 when the 
German high seas fleet was ordered into the North Sea to relieve the pres- 
sure on the German armies retreating along the Belgian coast. Immediately 
a rumor spread from ship to ship the crews had long since evolved a secret 
signaling system that the fleet was to be sacrificed in a last spectacular 
action against the British Grand Fleet rather than accept surrender. As a 
number of rabid Pan-Germans were left who advocated such a course, the 
danger seemed real and urgent. On several cruisers the fires were doused, 
on others the men refused to weigh anchors. The fleet stayed in the harbor, 
but the mutineers were arrested and jailed. Attempts to enforce discipline 
merely fanned the revolt. The sailors became the heroes of the day; the 
appearance of a small detachment of bluejackets was enough to trigger the 
uprising in one north German city after another. 

On November 7 the railway lines to Berlin were cut to protect the capital, 
but the infection had already reached south Germany and shaken the foun- 
dations of the federal state for on that day revolution broke out in Munich. 
It was led by a fifty-one-year-old Bavarian, Kurt Eisner, a former journalist 
who had carried on a persistent campaign against the war since its begin- 
ning and had gathered around him a small but faithful group of workers 
and intellectuals. His convictions had forced him to break with the major- 
ity socialists, and had finally earned him a sentence for treason. He was 
released from jail in time to organize the mass meeting that triggered the 
Munich revolution. It was called on the Munich Fair Grounds, the 
Theresienwiese, where once a year was celebrated the huge, beery Oktober- 
fest (October Festival). In a mounting frenzy, twelve successive speakers 
called for the abdication of the Kaiser. As the excitement grew, the soldiers 
in the crowds formed ranks behind Eisner and marched to the neatest bar- 
racks, where the garrison was easily persuaded to join the parade. As it 
marched through town, it acquired more soldiers, and a brass band. The 
railroad stations, post offices, and government buildings were occupied by 
revolutionary commandos, and toward evening a soldiers* and workers' 
soviet, with Eisner as president of the small group, established its head- 
quarters in a brewery and proclaimed Bavaria a socialist republic. 

When the revolution erupted the Bavarian King, Ludwig, the sedate, 
burgher-like descendant of the magnificent Ludwig I Lola Montez's ad- 
mirerand of the mad Ludwig n, was walking with his daughters in the 
English Garden, a long narrow park which extended its well-kept lawns, 
artificial lakes, cascades, gazebos, and kiosks to the north of the Royal 


Residence, on the opposite side of town from the Theresienwiese. He was 
accosted by one of his subjects who respectfully but urgently advised him 
to go back to his palace. There he learned from his ministers that a re- 
public had been proclaimed. He and his family packed some hand baggage 
and left the city by automobile, unaccompanied and unmolested. They 
took up abode in Berchtesgaden, and on November 13 Ludwig formally 
abdicated, releasing all Bavarian officials and soldiers from their oath of 
allegiance. Thus the Wittelsbach dynasty became the first to capitulate to 
the new order in Germany. As Kurt Eisner said: "The Wittelsbachs ruled 
over Bavaria for seven hundred years. I got rid of them in seven hours with 
seven men." 

In the first two weeks of November all the other German thrones col- 
lapsed. The last to give up was the ruler of a wooded patch of Thuringia, 
the Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt "The red flag floated over the pal- 
aces, while royal mottoes vanished from the courts, the newspapers and 
the commerical world," says Ralph Haswell Lutz in his scholarly study, 
The German Revolution. 

Though the princely houses of Germany had been the traditional bul- 
warks of regional particularism, their fall generated a strong centrifugal 
movement away from the Empire. "Weg vom Reich, Los von Preussen" 
("Away from the Reich, Break with Prussia") was one of the slogans of the 
Bavarian revolution, while the representatives of the Polish and Danish 
districts, not to mention those of Alsace-Lorraine, had already proclaimed 
their separatism in a public session of the Reichstag. Germany thus ap- 
peared to be simultaneously threatened with communism and with the 
breakup of its national unity. To avert both dangers it was essential that the 
central government itself take the leadership of the revolutionary move- 
ment and guide it into safe, national channels. Realization of this seems 
to have occurred simultaneously to Prince Max von Baden, and to the more 
conservative Social Democratic leaders, in particular to Friedrich Ebert. 

"If I go to Spa and obtain the abdication of the Kaiser, can I count on 
your support in the fight against social revolution?" the Chancellor asked. 

"I don't want social revolution," replied Ebert, a former saddlemaker 
and a man much respected for his integrity. "I hate it like sin." 

Both the Chancellor and Ebert, who knew the German's attachment to 
monarchic institutions, were doing their best to save the dynasty by sacri- 
ficing its figurehead. But the Kaiser was not co-operative. In despair, Prince 
Max, who had been ill with influenza for nearly two weeks (the terrible 
pandemic of so-called Spanish influenza was then raging throughout Eu- 
rope) sent in his resignation. It was refused, and the plea for abdication 
simply ignored. Appeals to Marshal Hindenburg were equally unsuccessful; 
the old soldier could not even contemplate any action against the sovereign 
to whom he had sworn unconditional fidelity. 


On November 8 the war, as far as Germany was concerned, was virtu- 
ally over. On that day in a clearing of the Forest of Compiegne, in a con- 
verted wagon-restaurant attached to Marshal Foch's special train, the 
stony-faced German armistice commission, headed by Secretary of State 
Matthias Erzberger, having answered "Yes" to Marshal Foch's curt query, 
"Do you request an armistice?" listened to the terms that were to be im- 
posed on them. As article after article was read, first in French, then in 
German, they grew paler and stonier, and the young German interpreter- 
officer wept openly, for, as Foch had wanted it, the armistice was designed 
"to put Germany at the mercy of the victors." On the evening of November 
8, however, the Kaiser stall had not grasped the implications of the drama 
at Compi&gne. Earlier in the day he had ordered a plan to be drawn up 
for the restoration of order in the country by the army. He had never 
varied in his belief that the army, whose military oath included uncon- 
ditional obedience to the Kaiser's commands, stood as a shield between 
revolution and the dynasty, and the Supreme Command had, so far, not 
seen fit to disillusion him. As Wilhelm saw it, it was the army's duty to 
obey Mm and his duty to take the head of the operation: he had said so to 
Prince Max, who had kept him on the phone for nearly half an hour with a 
heart-to-heart appeal "as a relative and a German prince" to consent to 
immediate abdication. Once again, in the face of the Kaiser's refusal, the 
Chancellor had begged to be allowed to resign. But Wilhelm would not let 
him off the hook. "You asked for the armistice," he said sarcastically, using 
the familiar thou. "You stay and see it through!" 

It was the last night of Imperial Germany, and its last Kaiser went to 
bed without being told by his staff that his plan was a pipe dream, and that 
nothing now could stop the revolution scheduled to break out the next 
morning in Berlin. 

The Kaiser's order for a plan of operations against the revolutionary 
home front had been addressed to the new Quartermaster General, Gen- 
eral Wilhelm Groener. (Ludendorff had finally toppled off his pedestal, a 
prey to nervous prostration and to the Berlin government's cries for his 
scalp.) A south German, the son of a noncommissioned officer, Groener 
was a man of cool judgment and an immensely able administrator. A close 
rival of Ludendorff, he had been passed over only because his family did 
not belong to the military caste. When he received the Kaiser's instructions 
he decided that the time for illusions was past. In a heart-to-heart talk, he 
put the facts to his chief, HSndenburg, whose position at Headquarters has 
often been described as that of a much respected zero. 

Far from being Kaisertreu (unconditionally devoted to the Emperor), 
he told the old marshal, the army was the spearhead of the revolution. 
Soldiers' and Workers* Councils had taken control of railway^ centers and 
supply depots. The bridges across the Rhine were in their* hands. The 


Kaiser's plan was unworkable. Hindenburg wept. The Emperor's seventy- 
seven-year-old Adjutant General von Plessen wept. He had been Adjutant 
General to Emperor Wilhelm I, and his motto was "The Kaiser must hear 
only good news." But no one went to see Wilhelm in his hill-top sanctuary. 
Prince Max von Baden telephoned again and informed Headquarters that 
if the news of the abdication was not on the front pages of the newspapers 
at breakfast time, the workers, in accordance with instructions from the 
Socialist leaders, would take to the streets after the mid-morning coffee 

The night's crop of warnings and abdication pleas from Berlin were 
brought to the Kaiser with his breakfast. They did not, however, keep him 
from his Spatiergang, that particular addiction of elderly German gentle- 
men, which consists of strolling, cane in hand, along well-kept paths, paus- 
ing on an occasional bench, conversing earnestly all along. Wilhelm did 
warn the sentries at the gates that he would remain in the immediate sur- 
roundings, and left orders to send for him if Marshal Hindenburg should 
call. It was a foggy morning, and the trees dripped drearily from nearly 
leafless branches, but the cold seemed to invigorate the Kaiser, who held 
forth at length, to the staff officer accompanying him, on the perils of 
Bolshevism. He could not believe, he said as they walked past the frost- 
blackened flower beds, that the Allies would fail to recognize the danger 
of exposing Germany to such a plague. The revolutionary movements, 
though worrisome, could still be scotched, 'We'll surmount these diffi- 
culties by a rapid military action," he prattled. 

But the moment of truth was approaching. A guard came running to 
announce the Marshal's arrival. 

In the closely curtained garden room, where a fibre was burning in the 
grate, half a dozen men in feldgrau uniforms stood around, biting their 
lips, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. As Hindenburg, fighting 
to control his emotions, started to speak, the Kaiser held his numb hands 
to the fire. 

With tears in his eyes, the massive gray-headed old soldier begged his 
War Lord's leave to resign. He could not, as a Prussian officer . . . Chok- 
ing, he motioned to Groener to finish the sentence. It fell to the "good 
Swabian" as he was known a little pityingly at Headquarters, to tell the 
German Emperor that his day was over. The situation, as he saw it, was 
hopeless: the army was beaten and Germany was in the hands of the revo- 
lutionaries. It was quite impossible to fight a rear-guard action against the 
enemy and a civil war at the same time. The army was unreliable. The 
Emperor's plan was totally unfeasible. The urgent need was to ask for an 
armistice, immediate and unconditional. 

Groener, though he did not share the semi-mystical attitude of Prussian 
officers toward the All Highest, avoided pronouncing the word "abdica- 


tion." He supposed that the Kaiser would spare them all the final ordeal 
and himself draw the inescapable conclusion. 

But the heavy silence that followed was broken by one of the officers 
present, who had listened to Groener's expose with impatience, and had 
been mutely begging the Kaiser for leave to speak. Count Friedrich von 
Schulenburg, described in most memoirs as a "Prussian officer of the old 
school and a gentleman," was the Crown Prince's chief of staff (and the 
father of another Prussian officer and gentleman who was to die on the 
gallows for plotting against Hitler in July 1944). He denied heatedly that 
the army was unreliable. "Give them time to sleep and to get rid of their 
lice," he said. "In eight or ten days they will be all right, and anxious to 
fight the rabble of Jews and war profiteers who have betrayed them." 

General von Plessen chimed in enthusiastically, and a general discussion 
developed. Wilhelm, after listening to both sides of the argument, re- 
treated to a new position: he would at least, he said, lead the army home 
in good order after the armistice had been concluded. 

Groener heaved a sigh: the Kaiser had still not understood. He pre- 
pared to deliver the coup de grace: 

"The army will return home in good order under the command of its 
chiefs, but not under the orders of Your Majesty. The army is no longer 
behind Your Majesty." 

Stung to the quick, the Kaiser turned on Groener. "Excellency, I shall 
require that statement from you in black and white," he snapped. 

Wilhelm then looked questioningly at Hindenburg. The Marshal mum- 
bled soothing words, but he too had to admit that the loyalty of the troops 
to their War Lord could no longer be guaranteed. An impasse had been 

In the embarrassed hush the constant ringing of the telephone in an 
adjoining office, the querulous voice of the official replying to Berlin's 
queries, suddenly became unbearable. The Kaiser adjourned the meeting; 
the French windows were thrown open. Wilhelm waved aside an officer who 
whispered that the Chancellor was on the phone once again and wished to 
speak to his Majesty, and everyone drifted into the garden. 

Groener, who had been challenged by his Emperor to prove the validity 
of his assertions, returned to the Hotel Britannique, where a meeting of 
army commanders hastily summoned from the front was in progress. Or- 
ders to proceed to Headquarters immediately had reached them in their 
front line positions in the night Most of them had motored through the 
small hours and had arrived at dawn, frozen to the bone, yawning and 
hungry. In the confusion nobody had arranged to serve them breakfast, 
and they could only guess at the reason for the summons by the long faces 
and distraught looks of the headquarters personnel, who brushed off their 


questions in nervous haste. Shortly before ten, the Marshal had finally 
appeared, red-eyed and ash-gray, and had drawn for them such a grisly 
picture of the general situation at home and on the front that when he 
ceased speaking there fell a "silence as of a tomb," interrupted only by the 
discreet sniffles of the Kaiser's Adjutant General, who had drifted into the 
meeting by accident After the briefing by Hindenburg, a staff officer had 
been ordered to interrogate each of the thirty-nine army commanders sepa- 
rately and privately. 

He was to ask two questions. The first was: 'Would it be possible for 
the Kaiser to regain control of Germany by force of arms, at the head of 
his troops?" By the end of the morning only one unequivocal "yes," to 
twenty-three "noes" and fifteen ambiguous answers, had been registered. 
To the second question, "Would the troops march against the Bolshevists 
in Germany?" the replies had been eight "yeses," nineteen "noes," and 
twelve uncertain. 

It was a little before one when Groener, accompanied by the officer who 
had examined the army commanders, once more made his way to the villa. 
The Kaiser was still in the park, standing in the center of a motionless group 
of officers, talking in high-pitched tones and gesticulating with his right 
hand. The Crown Prince was there too. He had arrived around noon, and 
had winced at his father's appearance. 

". . . His face was livid and haggard, his features drawn ... I felt 
sorry for him," he later wrote in his memoirs. 

During the informal and feverish discussions in the garden, the officers 
of the Kaiser's military house, Schulenburg, the Crown Prince, all had of- 
fered advice to the hapless man whose fate was being decided. He was now 
grasping at a new straw that had been held out to him: he would sacrifice 
himself to avert civil war (he had reigned long enough to know what an 
ungrateful job it was, let others try to do better, etc.) and would abdicate 
as German Emperor. But not as King of Prussia. Never as King of Prussia. 
And as King he would remain at the head of his Prussian troops. 

The men whose distracted coming and going churned up the neat gravel 
on the walk were too intimately involved in the situation to realize fhat 
their words had already been robbed of meaning by the swift rush of his- 
tory. Telegrams from Berlin indicated that revolution had broken out 
punctually on schedule, and that some of the Emperor's most trusted regi- 
ments had hoisted the Red flag. The telephone kept ringing in the villa. 
"What about the abdication?" the Chancellor's office in Berlin wanted to 
know. "The decision is being taken," the Kaiser's office in Spa replied. 

As soon as Groener appeared, the Kaiser asked for a report, and at a nod 
from the prim Swabian whom only the uniform kept from looking like a 
rural high-school principal the officer accompanying him read off the re- 
sults of the poll of army commanders. In tones which were felt to be un- 


necessarily loud he summed up the consensus: "The Army is true to your 
Majesty, but tired and indifferent. It wants only one thing: rest and peace. 
Nor will it now march against the country, not even with Your Majesty." 

There was another one of those silences. Once again von Schulenburg 
jumped into the breach with a tirade about the officers' oath to the flag and 
to their Supreme War Lord. 

Then Groener, the only one present whose vocabulary was adapted to 
the times, pronounced the verdict which put an end to an era. "The oath to 
the flag? The Supreme War Lord? These are now but words." 

There seemed little to say after that, and indeed little was said. A mes- 
senger came running from the house with further news from Berlin: the 
situation was getting out of hand, one regiment after the other was deserting 
to the "Bolsheviks." 

Wilhelm stood silent for a few minutes, and then finally took his last de- 
cision as Kaiser: He would abdicate as Emperor, but not as King of Prus- 
sia. The armistice terms must be accepted. Hindenburg was to take over 
supreme command of the army. 

He then dismissed his generals and went in to lunch, A committee sat 
down to work out the wording of the abdication act a waste of time, as it 
turned out shortly, for the decision was no longer Wilhelm's. 

Lunch in the friendly dining room of the villa, at a table laden with 
freshly cut flowers from the garden, was recorded as a nightmarish memory 
by the Crown Prince. The Kaiser sat brooding, nervously biting his upper 
lip; no one cared to break the silence; the food remained on the plates. But 
it was soon over, and Wilhelm, his son, von Schulenburg, and a few of the 
intimate staff had just drifted dejectedly into the living room for coffee, 
when a door was thrown open and a stricken voice called from an adjoin- 
ing office, "Would Your Majesty be so good as to come here a moment?" 
Admiral Hintze, the Foreign Office representative at Spa, still held the 
telephone receiver in a trembling hand. It was two o'clock and he had just 
called Berlin to transmit the text of the abdication act The Chancellor's 
spokesman in Berlin had rudely interrupted him right at the start to ask, 
"Is it abdication at last?" As Hintze read the passage relating to the Kaiser's 
abdication as Emperor but not as King of Prussia, the voice in Berlin had 
gasped, "This is insane!" and before Hintze had reached the end of the 
declaration he was interrupted again. "Special editions have just gone on 
sale in the streets," the voice now said with a new urgency. "I have one 
here. Let me read you what it says." 

Prince Max's spokesman had been on the telephone all morning trying 
to get a decisive statement from Spa. He had therefore not been informed 
that at 11:30 A.M. the Chancellor, believing the abdication to be imminent 
and faced with an increasingly threatening situation in the streets, had is- 
sued a communiqu6 to the Wolf Agency announcing the Kaiser's decision 


to renounce the throne for himself and for his son. At 12:30, with all the 
troops of the Berlin garrison mutinous, including the famed Emperor 
Alexander Regiment, the Kaiser's special pride, Prince Max had transmitted 
his powers to Ebert. 

If the special edition with the screaming headlines announcing the ab- 
dication came as a surprise to the Chancellor's spokesman now the ex- 
Chancellor's spokesman in Berlin, the text of the Wolf telegram, as read 
to him over the phone, literally stunned the unfortunate Hintze in Spa. He 
called out to his Kaiser, who stood dumfounded as the situation was ex- 
plained to him. 

It was the affront to the Emperor which struck Wilhelm and his luncheon 
guests, and loosened their tongues. "Unheard of ... Decision taken out 
of my hands . . . Treachery . . ." There was a babel of such confused, 
jittery exclamations, then a burst of activity: telegram blanks covered 
feverishly, orders for arms to be brought to the villa, orders to inform 
Hindenburg and Groener at once. Wilhelm's apparent resolution to stand 
his ground made it easier for the Crown Prince to take his leave. He, too, 
was urgently required at his battle post. The armistice terms had been re- 
ceived at Spa, but no one had studied them yet, and fighting was still in 
progress all along the lines. 

"I did not guess," says the Crown Prince, "as I shook his hand that I 
would only see him [the Kaiser] again a year later, in Holland." 

Back at Headquarters, Hindenburg, Groener, and their advisers went 
into conference to decide what to do with their discarded monarch and 
War Lord. Groener had already made plain his views ten days earlier in an 
informal talk with Hindenburg and Plessen. He thought that the Kaiser 
should go to the front and get himself killed. The other two generals had 
been horrified, and Wilhelm himself had disapproved of the suggestion it 
was never submitted to him as a formal proposal on lofty humanitarian 
and religious grounds. 

"Some say the Emperor should have gone to some regiment at the front, 
hurled himself with it upon the enemy and sought death in one last attack," 
the ex-Kaiser notes in his memoirs. "That would not only have rendered 
impossible the armistice ... but would also have meant the useless sacri- 
fice of the lives of many soldiers." 

Wilhelm also records his feeling that a Heldentod ("hero's death") at 
the front would have been a violation of Christian principles incompatible 
with his honorary position as first bishop of the Evangelical Church in 
Germany. Presumably their ex-master's views were known to the conferees 
at the Hotel Britannique, and in any case by the afternoon of November 9 
Greener's idea which might conceivably have saved the monarchy if 
carried out in time was no longer practical. It was equally impossible for 
Wilhelm to return home for a last stand against the revolution. The roads 


back to Germany were blocked by the Reds. Spa itself was no longer safe; 
soldiers' councils had begun to form; the men's faces were turning sullen 
and officers-to the sardonic joy of the Belgian civilians were no longer 
saluted when they appeared on the streets of the little town. It was not even 
certain that the regiment assigned to guard the Emperor's person would 
remain loyal. Hindenburg, recalling the massacre of the Czar and his fam- 
ily at Ekaterinburg, insisted that Wilhelm must leave at once, while it was 
still possible, to seek refuge on neutral soil. Groener and the rest finally 

At 4 P.M. they returned to the villa to inform the Kaiser of their decision. 
"My God, you again, already!" he exclaimed when he saw them. Then, 
turning to Groener in a burst of spite, he said, "You have a War Lord no 
longer." Wilhelm clearly was not in a co-operative mood. "The declarations 
of his Majesty took quite a while," one of the officers present noted with 
restraint. Eventually Wilhelm authorized "preparatory measures" for a 
flight to Holland to be taken. 

With or without his consent, such measures had already been decided. 
Witnesses of the period recall that earlier on the same day a Dutch general 
spent several hours in the town, and that some sort of military exercise was 
put on for his benefit; its senselessness on that particular day struck local 
observers as quite out of the ordinary. Holland had been picked in prefer- 
ence to Switzerland as a sanctuary for the ex-Kaiser, not only because its 
border was a mere 40 miles from Spa, but also because it was a monarchy. 

After so many years of posturing to hide his inner uncertainty, it was not 
easy for Wilhelm to decide on a becoming exit The idea of selling his life 
dearly, surrounded by his faithful followers in the besieged villa, appealed 
to him long enough to order arms to be brought to the residence. But at the 
end of the day, with darkness falling rapidly, he was persuaded to return to 
his special train, which served hi as traveling headquarters, and which 
was always ready for him. 

He had still not admitted the idea of flight, and when he reached the 
train he found a message from the Kaiserin, who was in Potsdam and re- 
ported that she was in good spirits, and wished him well. "My wife stays," 
he exclaimed, "and they want me to leave for Holland ... It would look 
like fear!" Two naval officers who met him on his way to the dining car 
found him determined to remain. They had begged him to be released from 
the service. "No," he said. "No. You must stay. I am staying." And banging 
on the table with his fist, "I am staying, not leaving." 

It was after ten at night, when Wilhelm finally gave his consent to de- 
parture. "But only tomorrow/' he insisted. Hindenburg was getting into 
bed when General von Plessen came to inform him that his master had 
finally decided to leave for Holland in the morning. Utterly worn out by the 
emotional strain of the day, the old Marshal nevertheless decided to hasten 


to the train. Plessen advised against it. The Kaiser should not be disturbed 
again tonight. There would be time tomorrow. 

While merciful oblivion came to the aged Commander-in-Chief, his 
Quartermaster General settled down to a night's work. The dynastic ques- 
tion had been solved with relative ease. Groener may not have agreed 
with the German socialist who said, "Wilhelm's greatest service to his 
country in thirty-one years of reign was to leave it," but it was a relief to be 
able to turn one's attention to serious problems. 

The most urgent one was to bring the German army home in good order, 
and to save Germany from a Bolshevist revolution. The Allied armistice 
terms had been transmitted to Spa from Rhetondes on that day. They 
called for the evacuation by the German army of Belgium and Alsace- 
Lorraine within fifteen days, for the occupation by the Allies of the left 
bank of the Rhine, and for the delivery into the victor's hands of practically 
all the nation's armaments. It was necessary for Germany to have a strong 
government to cope with such demands. The key to the situation lay in 
Berlin. Groener picked up the telephone which connected headquarters di- 
rectly with the Chancellor's office 'TDo all that is in your power for the 
Reich," Prince Max had said to Ebert that afternoon just before leaving for 
Baden where he had his own little revolution to cope with. "I have given it 
two sons," Ebert had replied sadly. But he had few illusions about his 
further services to the country. Defeat coupled with civil war were staring 
him in the face, and there was no one he could depend on. He sat de- 
jectedly, listening to the brawling of the crowd beneath the Chancellery 

The telephone rang and he reached nervously for the receiver. His relief 
at hearing Groener's voice was great; the two men knew and respected 
each other. Groener came to the point with military abruptness. Was Ebert 
willing to restore order? "Yes," replied Ebert fervently. Rapidly the two 
men reached an agreement. Groener would maintain discipline in the army 
and bring it home in good order; Ebert would co-operate with the Officers* 
Corps in the suppression of Bolshevism and it would see to it that no dis- 
turbances interfered with the transport system. Hindenburg, it was de- 
cided, would remain at the head of the army. 

This telephone conversation determined the future of the German Re- 
public. The revolutionary government would have the army's support and 
thus be strong enough to bear the responsibility of the armistice. Ebert may 
not have realized that he was delivering the new regime into the hands of 
the army. But Groener, the strategist, had every reason to go to bed satisfied. 
The important business of the day had at last been attended to. 

Wilhelm, meanwhile, had been quietly attending to some business of his 
own. At 4:30 A.M. on Sunday, November 10, his train slid out of the Spa 
station into the foggy night. Among the numerous persons who failed to 


receive notice of the Kaiser's pre-dawn departure was the newly appointed 
chief of his civilian cabinet, Clemens von Delbruck, who had rushed away 
from Berlin the previous evening to die at his master's side; Delbruck had 
managed to get through the revolutionary barricades, but when he alighted 
at Spa shortly after daybreak with a grim, dedicated expression, it was to 
discover that he was several hours late for his rendezvous with death. 

There was no slip-up, however, in the arrangement for the Kaiser's 
escape. His chauffeur had driven out of town during the night in a car 
stripped of all insignia with instructions to wait beside the railway track a 
few miles from the Dutch frontier. Ten other cars joined him en route. They 
were lined up at the designated spot, their headlights dimmed by the thick 
fog, when the Imperial train halted in the middle of the countryside. It was 
still dark. Muffled to the eyes in a greatcoat, Wilhelm walked from his rail- 
way carriage to the lead automobile in the caravan and climbed in. His 
suite occupied the others. 

The cortege reached the border post at Eyden at 7:30 A.M. It was several 
hours before any Dutch officials of sufficient rank to deal with such an 
exalted situation showed up. When they finally appeared, they treated the 
Imperial refugees with every courtesy, but there were a few formalities they 
had to insist upon observing. Some of the officers in the Kaiser's party were 
turned back as belligerents, and Wilhelm himself had to deposit his sword 
with the Dutch customs for safekeeping. A little later he reached the castle 
of Amerongen, in Holland, where he was to spend the first months of his 
comfortable exile. 

"And now, my dear Count," he said to his host, stretching out his legs in 
front of the fire, "I would like a cup of really hot, strong, English tea." 

Two days later the Crown Prince, who had promised his corps com- 
manders, with a firm clasp of the hand, that he would remain with the 
army, also reached Holland. There have been both more tragic and more 
disgraceful exits from the stage of history, but few more inglorious ones. 

In a purely formal sense, the 250-year reign of the Hohenzollern dynasty 
did not come to an end until November 28, 1918, when Wilhelm, safe in 
exile, signed an official act of abdication both as Prussian King and as 
German Emperor. (The Crown Prince renounced his rights to the two 
thrones on December 1.) As we have seen, however, responsibility for the 
fate of some 60,000,000 war-exhausted Germans and for accepting the 
hard armistice conditions of their victorious enemies had already shifted 
to the new men in Berlin. It was they who had to pick up the pieces. 

Friedrich Ebert and his colleagues were no revolutionary firebrands. 
Since 1914 they had dutifully voted all the credits required for the greater 
glory of German arms and earned their nickname of "good sozis" (good 
socialists). When at the request of Prince Max von Baden Friedrich Ebert 
assumed the chancellorship, his frock coat was correctly buttoned over his 


paunch and a blamelessly starched collar supported his comfortable jowls. 
His ideas were no more subversive than those of the Grand Duke from 
whom he took over. Like Prince Max he would have favored a liberal, 
parliamentary monarchy along British lines. He had hoped for a regency 
and an eventual restoration in the person of Wilhelm's youngest son, Prince 
August Wilhelm (a poor choice, as it later turned out, when "Auwi" 
showed up in the ranks of the Nazis). In fact, the form of Germany's gov- 
ernment was decided without Ebert. As he was lunching with his colleague 
Scheidemann in the Reichstag restaurant on the afternoon of November 9, 
a workers' delegation broke into the building clamoring for a speech. 
Scheidemann got up from his clear-soup, and as he walked toward the bal- 
cony, his excited escort informed him that Liebknecht was going to pro- 
claim a Soviet Republic from the steps of the Imperial Palace. With great 
presence of mind, the elderly, professorial Scheidemann ended his short 
address to the seething crowd below with these words: "The old and the 
rotten, the monarchy, has collapsed. Long live the new. Long live the Ger- 
man Republic." Thus German democracy was born as an improvisation to 
head off a proletarian revolution. 

Ebert was furious at his colleague's high-handed announcement, but he 
could see for himself how timely it had been. Gray-faced, ragged masses 
from the suburbs were pouring into Unter den Linden, brandishing Red 
flags, sweeping along with them crippled veterans, released jailbirds, 
bearded and dazed prisoners of war, in the great fraternal delirium of the 
Internationale, Prince von Billow, a bitter old man, stood behind a window 
at the Adlon Hotel and saw his world go down. "I have seldom witnessed 
anything so nauseating," he wrote, "as ... the spectacle of half grown 
louts, tricked out with the red armlets of Social Democracy, who in bands 
of several at a time, came creeping up behind any officer wearing the Iron 
Cross or the order Pour le merite, to pin down his elbows at his side and 
tear off his epaulettes." 

To an excitable observer the first dawn of the democratic German re- 
publicNovember 10 might well have seemed likely to be its last one. The 
thick black headlines announcing the Kaiser's flight were only one of many 
shocks that came to dazed inhabitants of the capital along with their ersatz 
coffee and their morning newspaper. The papers themselves had in many 
cases taken on a new look during the night: the royalist Lokal Anzeiger, 
for example, had turned into Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag). Ebert, how- 
ever, knew that things were not quite as desperate as they looked. Fortified 
by his midnight telephone pact with Groener, he set to work at once organ- 
izing a provisional government a necessary preliminary to an armistice, 
among other things to function until a constituent assembly could be 
elected. To wean the Independent Socialists away from their Communist 
wing, Ebert offered to share power with them. After a whole day, and part 

of a night of bitter haggling and of fierce alarms, he achieved his objective: 
formation of a provisional but full and legal government, able to speak in 
the name of the new German republic. At 2:15 A.M. on November 11, 
Erzberger announced the good tidings to the Allied armistice representative 
at Rethondes, and the final talks got under way. (Up to that moment Erz- 
berger had no way of telling whether or not he represented a German au- 
thority empowered to accept the Allied terms. The French were even more 
confused about what was happening in Berlin, and at one point Erzberger 
had to explain that a telegram ending with the words, THE IMPERIAL CHAN- 
CELLOR SCHLUSS, did not indicate the emergence of a new revolutionary 
leader in the German capital since "schluss" was merely German tele- 
graphese for "stop.") Three hours and five minutes later the armistice 
agreement ending the greatest war in human history up to that time was 
formally signed. 

The delirium of joy with which the news was greeted in Paris, London, 
and throughout the United States was only feebly echoed in Berlin, still 
reverberating from the crash of the monarchy. For the Germans the still- 
ness over trenches was drowned out by the roar of revolutionary mobs in 
the streets. The cease-fire in the West heralded the imminent outbreak of 
civil war at home. 


The Fall of the House of Habsburg 

AT dusk on November 11, 1918, while joy-intoxicated 
JL\. crowds, celebrating the death of war and the birth of hope, 
cheered, sang, embraced in Times Square, on the Champs-Elysees, in 
Piccadilly, two cars slid past the ragged sentinels of the newly founded 
Austrian People's Militia on duty at the back entrance of Schoenbmnn 
Palace. Though driven by trusted chauffeurs of the Imperial Court, the 
machines themselves were ordinary Vienna taxicabs. A rather ugly-looking 
demonstration of workers from the nearby Florisdorf steel works was be- 
ginning at the main gates of the palace, and the two drivers had been sent 
out to borrow the cabs so as to avoid attracting undesirable attention to 
their eminent passengers: a tired-looking young couple with a gaggle of 
unusually subdued blond children. Karl, Emperor of Austria, King of 
Hungary, his wife, the Empress Zita, and five little Archdukes and Arch- 
duchesses, accompanied by as much hastily packed baggage as the cabs 
would hold, were on their unobtrusive way to exile. Their destination was 
the chilly and temporary haven of Eckartsau Castle, a bare fifteen miles 
out of town but situated in a corner of the Burgenland which at that time 
was Hungarian soil. 

Revolution had broken out in Vienna, fanned by news of the upheaval 
in Germany. Though Karl had obligingly relinquished the reins of govern- 
menthis former ministers at the moment were sitting side by side wife their 
socialist successors in the Royal-Imperial ministries, initiating them by 
easy stages into their new responsibilities, and no doubt exchanging with 
them bleak little Viennese jokes about the situationthe mood of the hun- 
gry masses in the city was dangerously unstable. It had seemed advisable 
from every viewpoint for the deposed monarch and his family to leave 
town at once, and without attracting too much attention. 


To the superficial eye the flight of the last Habsburg Emperor from the 
capital of his ancestors lacks drama, despite its air of urgency, and Karl 
himself seems a pathetic rather than a tragic figure. As with many of the 
other decisive moments in the 600-year history of the dynasty it was not 
immediately clear exactly what this one had decided. Though Karl was in 
fact leaving for good, and was never to recover even one of the several 
crowns he had been forced to abandon, he did not realize the finality of the 
occasion. It was not, after all, the first time a Habsburg had been chased 
out of Vienna by revolution: there was the precedent of 1848 to suggest 
that his return might eventually be possible. Karl, in resigning his func- 
tions, had carefully avoided abdicating his rights. Technically he was still 
the reigning King of Hungary and though he had ceased to reign as Em- 
peror, he would have found it difficult at the time as would anyone else 
to trace the precise frontiers of the empire that he had just renounced. The 
death throes of the Dual Monarchy could hardly be less ambiguous or em- 
broiled than its whole juridical status had been. The fuzziness of the situa- 
tion, the atmosphere of somehow inconclusive conclusion that surrounded 
it, was accentuated by the timing of the Imperial Family's departure. A day 
or two earlier it could have had more solemnity. A few hours later it might 
have seemed a heroic escape. Poor Karl bungled his exit as he had failed 
nearly everything else in his brief reign. 

It is hard to make high tragedy out of misfortunes so like the messiness 
of everyday life, but underneath the surface flatness or incoherence of 
events, the collapse of the Habsburg dynasty was authentically tragic, not 
only because of its ultimate historical consequences, but even in a muted, 
Viennese way, for its very style. Karl had inherited the Habsburg tradition 
of defeat, and though it was not in him to manage anything brilliantly, not 
even a disaster, he upheld that tradition with honor and dignity. If the 
story lacks one kind of drama it combines in a strange, rather compelling 
fashion an almost Greek sense of inevitable doom with a harrowing feeling 
of unnecessary catastrophe. One is reminded of an airplane that gets out of 
control in landing, brushes a series of minor obstacles, and scatters bits of 
flaming wreckage for a mile before the final, almost anti-climactic crash. 
Karl was the hapless pilot, wrestling bravely and ineffectually up to the 
last fraction of a second with inexorable fate and his own blunders. His 
failure is curiously moving to the sensitized present-day intelligence, Karl 
was not a monster like Abdul Hamid, or a kind of defective like Nicholas, 
or a self-impostor like Wilhelm. Except for being more well-meaning than 
most of us normally are, and bearing himself a bit better in misfortune 
than we usually manage to do, and acting, perhaps, a shade less effectively 
in an emergency, he could be any of us. The last heir to six centuries of 
grandeur and medievalism comes close to incarnating that wistful new 


folk-hero of the modern age: The Little Man in the grip of giant circum- 
stance. The Chaplinesque tragedy is worth recounting. 

Karl, as we noted earlier, succeeded his great uncle, Francis Joseph, on 
November 21, 1916. The old gentleman had attended to the business of 
dying with his usual simple dignity. Stricken with pneumonia, he had been 
persuaded to leave his desk early on the evening before, but he had left 
instructions to be called at the usual time in the morning. By then he was 
dead. His only friend, Katharina Schratt, was not present: he had wanted 
to spare her the sight of his sickness. She was escorted to the narrow iron 
cot next morning by Karl, aged twenty-nine, and a "good fellow" as his 
great uncle liked to call him. When a week later after Francis Joseph had 
lain in state, for vigils and Masses such as nowadays only accompany the 
burial of a Pope the young Emperor led the funeral procession through 
Vienna, some witnesses thought they detected a renewed attachment to the 
dynasty on the part of the hungry, war-weary Viennese public. The old 
Emperor had not been seen for so long, he had become almost a myth. 
But here was a modest young man, looking boyish in field-gray, his head 
bared, and between him and the slim figure of his wife, entirely draped in 
black from head to toe, walked his son, Otto, in skirts, sash, white socks 
and golden ringlets what the well-dressed four-year-old wore in those days. 
In a world fast disintegrating, it was a reassuring symbol of the bourgeois 
security which in fact Vienna and the Empire would never know again. 
The funeral itself was something else: the last great affirmation of the 
baroque tradition. While the body of the old ruler was being laid to rest, 
every hour was taking a terrible toll of young men, whose rotting corpses 
were being turned to mud on the battle fields of Verdun, of the Somme and 
on Isonzo, where the Austrians and Italians were locked for the ninth time 
in a great inconclusive battle. Few of the Viennese who lined the sidewalks 
can have failed to realize that it was their past grandeur they were seeing 

An American witness recorded the anachronistic pageantry which was 
enacted before the body was admitted to lie with its peers in the crypt of the 
Capuchin church. As the procession approached the crypt, a knight in 
armor stepped up and knocked on the closed gate. At this a monk in a cowl, 
appearing at a small window, queried, "Who knocks?" 

"The body of his August Majesty, the Emperor of Austria and King of 
Hungary demands to be admitted for sepulture," came the answer. 

"We know of no such person here," the monk replied. "Again I say, who 

Now the knight, bowing humbly, murmured, "A poor brother, a fellow 
being, seeks entrance for eternal rest." 


"Enter" said the monk, and as he spoke, the gates creaked open and the 
pallbearers carried the heavy coffin into the gloom of the crypt. 

Francis Joseph had died and been buried according to rules as old as the 
dynasty. But there were no rules ordained for the death of the dynasty itself 
and for the dissolution of the Empire it had ruled. The frail young man who 
was to play the last act did not know the lines there were none and his 
voice never rose above the Gotterdammerung din. 

Karl was the son of the notorious Otto, the "handsomest Archduke," who 
died in 1906 of too much high living. He had become heir apparent after 
the death of his uncle, Francis Ferdinand, whose children were debarred 
from the succession. His education, presided over by a doting mother- 
Otto had little taste for family life-and Jesuit priests, was exacting but of 
mediocre content, as was usual for the sons of reigning families. Young 
Karl did, however, end up by attending the University of Prague where he 
became conscious, as his predecessors never had been, of the aspirations of 
the minorities, but without being given an insight into the complicated puz- 
zle of governing them. Karl spent the two first war years in various garrison 
towns, and in command of an army corps on the Italian front, where he 
endeared himself to his men by his simplicity. 

As a Habsburg Emperor, or in fact as any kind of Habsburg, Karl was a 
curious anomaly. Perhaps the most up-to-date and enlightened member of 
his family in his political and social outlook since the times of the benevo- 
lent despot Joseph II Karl, unlike his predecessor kept three telephones on 
his desk and loved to drive fast cars he was from many viewpoints the 
most medieval in personality. Though his virtues were bourgeois rather 
than heroic in their expression, he recalls, at moments, such heroes of pious 
legend as St. Louis and Edward the Confessor. (His own family despite its 
sometimes austere clericalism seems to have produced no ruler of compara- 
ble sainfliness.) Earnest and still capable of juvenile enthusiasms, over- 
flowing with trust in his fellow men, he disliked the worldly cynics of the old 
court, who no doubt poked fun at Ms sometimes naive do-goodism. 

Karl not only had strong religious convictions: he tried to express them, 
with a literalness which often disconcerted his entourage, both in private 
life and in state policy. Abstaining from alcohol could be viewed as a 
harmless eccentricity; refusing to condone the wartime bombing of enemy 
cities and the destruction of art treasures seemed to many a dangerous ab- 

Karl was, in fact, a sworn enemy to every form of violence, legal or 
otherwise; he considered it un-Christian. Once when he was talking in a re- 
laxed mood with Count Tamas von Erdody, a childhood friend, and a 
member of his military staff, the latter playfully boasted about how 
perfectly he could imitate the Imperial signature. Karl laughed good- 
humoredly, but then his face suddenly turned grave and with more than 


his usual earnestness he begged Erdody never to use his unorthodox talent 
to sign a death warrant in the Emperor's name. On another occasion, in 
connection with the secret mission of the Bourbon-Parma princes, Erdody 
reported having been obliged to knock a spy downstairs. "Oh, I hope the 
poor fellow did not break his neck," the Emperor exclaimed Late one 
night in February 1918, while Karl was traveling to Budapest, a telegram 
reached the Imperial train begging clemency for four mutineers who were 
to be shot in the morning. The head of Karl's military cabinet did not see 
fit to disturb his master's sleep for such trivialities and the execution took 
place as scheduled. When the Emperor woke up and learned about the 
telegram he was furious at his aide. "You should have called me," he said 
sternly. "I am a man like any other." 

All too frequently, Karl's efforts to inject Christian idealism into politics 
failed for lack of resolution. He was easily discouraged, and also far too 
easily swayed by his entourage, though he was neither as weak as the Czar 
nor as unstable as the Kaiser. 

Zita, whom Karl married in 1911, helped to strengthen his sense of pur- 
pose, though her judgment was often less good than his. She was an active, 
energetic woman, frankly eager to have an influence upon state policy, and 
no doubt a bit bossy at times. Just as her husband was stronger in character 
than Nicholas, Zita seems to have been healthier and saner than Alexandra. 
She also had less time on her hands for meddling. Between 1911 and 1921 
she presented the dynasty with eight children, and was scrupulous in ful- 
filling all her maternal duties. Politically, she was a good deal more reac- 
tionary than her husband. Whereas Karl had adopted as his own the 
doctrine of a federalized empire which the boldest members of Francis 
Ferdinand's private brain trust had urged upon the late heir shortly before 
his assassination, Zita, according to some of her critics, thought of the pro- 
jected federation as a constellation of duchies and kingdoms, each to be 
ruled by a Bourbon-Parma prince. Karl himself, despite the democratic 
manners and the liberal outlook which caused one enthusiastic parliamen- 
tarian to describe him as "a People's Emperor," was no parlor pink. He 
believed in the Habsburg mission. It was primarily to save the dynasty that 
he wanted to liberalize the Empire. 

By the time Karl took office, however, the centrifugal forces tearing at 
the fabric of the Dual Monarchy had become irreversible. At the beginning 
of the war, Count Stuergkh, the Prime Minister, had prorogued Parliament 
("Parliaments are only a means to an end, where they fail, other means 
must be employed," he had said) , In October 1916, in the face of Stuergkh's 
obstinate refusal to rescind the decree, a young socialist who was destined 
later to play a notable role in the Second Internationale, Friedrich Adler, 
son of the Social Democrat leader Viktor Adler, shot him dead while he 
was lunching, as usual, at the fashionable Meisl and Schadn restaurant. 


Karl showed his desire for liberal reform by reconvening Parliament in 
the spring of 1917. It immediately became a public platform for the mi- 
norities' claims to independence. 

Under Count Stuergkh's regime of "silence and compression, 5 ' the rot 
eating away the foundations of the Empire had made fast progress. Before 
1914 the minorities as a whole had aspired to nothing more than equality 
with the dominant races in the Empire: the Germans and the Magyars. But 
the Habsburg Germans, fighting shoulder to shoulder with their brethren of 
the Kaiser's Germany, were in no mood for concessions, and the Hungari- 
ans held the inexpugnable position of guardians of the Empire's larder. 
The minorities, which, added up, outnumbered the politically dominant 
German and Magyar groups by 10 millions, had been turned by wartime 
repression from grumbling but loyal subjects into plotting dissidents. 

In the face of nationalist movements whose avowed minimal aim was 
now complete independence, Karl's dreams of a federal monarchy were not 
merely tinged with unreality, but were based on a complete fiction. In fact, 
Karl had nothing to offer. He had let himself be trapped by the Hungarian 
Prime Minister, Count Tisza, into going to Budapest for Coronation as 
King of Hungary (a ceremony which Francis Joseph had avoided) . There 
he had sworn to respect the Hungarian constitution and "to preserve the 
integrity of the lands of the crown of St Stephen." This barred him not 
only from championing the rights of those minorities oppressed by the 
Magyars, but even from respecting, as he had promised when he took office, 
the ancient constitution of Bohemia whose lands were partially under 
Hungarian domination. 

There is a coronation portrait of Karl, Zita, and the Archduke Otto which 
shows them sitting stiffly on the gilded chairs deplorably typical of royal 
palaces the world over. Karl's headpiece, the crown of St. Stephen, is too 
big for him, and he holds the scepter as awkwardly as a school boy King 
Arthur. Zita's neck is stiff from the weight of the gold edifice, surmounted by 
a cross which presses down on her black hair. Little curly-haired Otto looks 
like a circus prince, with a huge aigrette topping the ermine toque worn 
above the ermine-lined cloak. They all look pathetically like children 
dressed up for a charade. 

How grim and ineffectual the charade was as long as they were tied to 
Hungary on the one side, to Germany on the other, both Karl and Zita 
realized. Karl's secret negotiations with the Allies to give his people the 
peace they yearned for, as we have seen, had come to nothing, and by the 
end of 1917 all the belligerents once more proclaimed their will to fight to 
the end for a just cause. In October seven German divisions were sent to 
reinforce the Austrians on the Isonzo front. It was felt in Berlin that a spec- 
tacular victory would be the best cure for Austrian despondency. The rout 
of the hated Italians at Caporetto the background for one of the dramatic 


episodes in Hemingway's A Farewell to Armsdid help to raise Austrian 
morale, but it also tied Vienna more firmly to Berlin's apron strings. When 
in October the German government proclaimed, "Germany will never, no 
never, make any concessions on the subject of the Alsace-Lorraine," Aus- 
tria's Foreign Minister, Count Czernin, echoed obediently, "We fight for 
Alsace-Lorraine just as the Germans fight for Trieste." 

It was the hapless Count, who by inadvertently bringing to light the Sixte 
de Bourbon affair, involved the monarchy in a scandal which gave it the 
coup de gr&ce. In the spring of 1918 things were looking better for Austria 
than they had in many months. Russia and Rumania had been knocked 
out of the war. Italy's army was crippled for the time being, and thanks to 
the "bread peace" of Brest-Litovsk, the exhausted civilians of the Central 
Powers could reasonably hope for better rations, if not better times. The 
great German spring offensive, which was to give the Allies the death blow, 
had started in Picardy. Count Czernin, cocky from his appearance on the 
stage of Brest-Litovsk, thought that a little psychological warfare was in 
order. In a speech delivered to the municipality of Vienna on April 2, he 
asserted that he had quite recently rejected a French offer of negotiations, 
because the proposed terms insisted on the return of Alsace-Lorraine. 
(Czernin was referring to new secret conversations in Switzerland between 
Austrian and French agents, which seem to have been originated by Aus- 
tria.) This rash statement was to cheer the home team, by giving the im- 
pression that France was looking for a way out of the war, despite 
Clemenceau's loudly proclaimed policy of fighting on to total victory. 

The "Tiger's" reply was short, brutal, and immediately reported by the 
press: "Count Czernin is lying." But Czernin would not leave well enough 
alone and engaged a spirited controversy with Clemenceau. He was skating 
on razor-thin ice, for although he had, a year ago, approved the Sixte de 
Bourbon mission, he had, it will be recalled, known nothing of the Em- 
peror's autographed letter to Poincar6, and Karl failed to warn him of its 
existence in time. Not only that, but no sooner had the existence of such a 
letter been rumored in Paris, than Karl sent a telegram to the Kaiser deny- 
ing its authenticity. At this Clemenceau, whose strongest virtue was not 
patience, had a facsimile published, for all to see. 

The affair was one of those complex and futile imbroglios that are some- 
times more decisive than great battles or solemn acts of policy. It also con- 
tains the essential essence of Karl's personal tragedy. In originally launching 
the peace negotiations behind his ally's back he had jesuitically sacrificed 
one moral duty to another, accepted shabby means to a noble end. He had 
set peace above honor. But his compromise with expediency had not been 
a total surrender to it. He had stopped short of the brink of outright false- 
hood. With the telegram to Wilhelm he threw himself right over it. His 
keen personal sense of honor and his unworldly conscience, inherited from 


some medieval ancestor, must have wrestled in anguish, with the cynical 
traditions of Metternichian diplomacy. Metternich won; for once St. Louis 
would have proved a sounder adviser. 

The Emperor of Austria stood exposed to the world as a liar. In those 
days Europe, even in its death throes, was not hardened to such violations 
of the gentleman's code. Ambassadors prevaricated as a matter of course. 
Premiers falsified, and, like Bethmann-Holliveg, sometimes treated solemn 
covenants as scraps of paper. Monarchs themselves quibbled and cheated 
on occasion. But they did not put their signatures to a formal lie least of 
all in writing to a brother monarch. The publication of Karl's telegram to 
the Kaiser was not only a mortal wound to his personal prestige as a ruler; 
it somehow tarnished the fading magic that still surrounded the Habsburg 
throne itself, the only remaining link between the peoples of the Empire. 
Perhaps the gravest link in the chain of disasters forged by Czemin's inno- 
cent blunder (he lost his job for it, of course, but was recompensed with the 
Grand Cross, set in diamonds, of the Crown of St. Stephen) was that Karl 
had to take the road to Canossa with respect to the Prussian allies whom he 
more than ever loathed and feared. Canossa in this case was the German 
Headquarters at Spa where Karl went in May. As one authority puts it, the 
price of his pardon was "the closest military, political and economic union 
which the two empires had hitherto concluded." Karl had lost his last pos- 
sibility of independent action. 

In the face of this development the last die-hard Habsburg apologists in 
the Allied camp were silenced. The policy of preserving the Dual Monarchy 
as a counterweight to Germany, seemed now indefensible and Benes' cry of 
"Destroy Austria" became Allied policy. Events within the crumbling Em- 
pire both reflected and sustained the Entente's decision. The Emperor and 
his successive governments were no longer able to cope with the open hos- 
tility of the minorities. The pandemonium in the Vienna Parliament where 
the deputies representing the various nationalities aired their claims with 
increasing violence surpassed anything seen before. In July 1918 a Czech 
deputy declared to the House: "We regard Austria as a centuries' old crime 
against humanity ... It is our highest national duty to betray Austria 
whenever and wherever we can. We shall hate Austria, we shall fight against 
her, and God willing, we shall in the end smash her to pieces." On Octo- 
ber 1 another Czech deputy, Stanek, declared that although his people had 
not shed a drop of blood willingly for the Central Powers, they had gladly 
made every sacrifice to bring about the imminent Allied victory. "The day 
of judgment is at hand," he shouted. His voice was covered by applause 
from some benches, shouts from others, the banging of desk lids. Cries of 
"Treason" from the German Austrians were encountered with a volley of 
briefcases and inkpots from the nationalities. 

Separatism and defeatism steadily mounted as the hopes of spring faded 


and the outlook for the Central Powers darkened. The turn of the tide on 
the Western Front coincided with the flood of the Allied offensive up 
through the Balkans, originally launched from Salonika by the multi-national 
expeditionary force under France's General Franchet d'Esperey. Aus- 
tria's share of the economic loot from Brest-Litovsk proved insufficient to 
compensate for the tightening grip of the Allied blockade. 

By the late summer of 1918 the Dual Monarchy had curdled not only 
into rival nationalisms but also into a multitude of separate and hostile 
economic islands. Hungary withheld its wheat from the rest of the empire; 
each province and district similarly hoarded its meager stocks. Living condi- 
tions became intolerable in the big cities, especially in Vienna. The pressure 
of public opinion for bread and peace became irresistible. 

On October 4, the Austrian government had joined the Germans in ap- 
pealing to President Wilson for an armistice, based on the Fourteen Points, 
and on October 6, without waiting for an answer, the Emperor Karl in a 
last ineffectual effort to preserve some role for the dynasty in the new 
scheme of things issued a manifesto reorganizing the non-Hungarian part 
of the monarchy into a federal state with complete self-government for the 
subject nationalities. The clause excepting ihe Hungarian territories from 
the reform had been forced on the Emperor by the Hungarian Prime Min- 
ister with the usual threats to cut off food supplies in case of non-compli- 
ance, and it effectively invalidated whatever effect the Manifesto might 
have had on the dissident nationalities and on President Wilson's hoped- 
for good will. 

(The Hungarian ruling class remained absolutely incapable of approach- 
ing the minorities problem from any other angle than the predatory Magyar 
one. When before issuing the Manifesto Karl had attempted to win the 
Hungarians to his point of view he sent Count Tisza, the Hungarian Prime 
Minister from 1913 to June 1917, to seek some modus vivendi with Hun- 
gary's South Slavs. The fiery, bearded Count had become so exasperated 
with his mission that on reaching Sarajevo he snarled at the dignitaries 
who had exposed their grievances, "It may be that we shall go under. But 
we shall grind you to pieces before we do.") 

The Committee set up to put the provisions of the Manifesto into effect, 
was boycotted by the Czechs; the Southern Slavs walked out; the Germans 
would not commit themselves, the Ukrainians rejected the plan; the Poles 
were elsewhere, and the Italian minority did not consider it applied to 
them. The population in general viewed the Manifesto as an admission of 
defeat, and the imperial bureaucracy, feeling the ground sinking away un- 
der its feet, was demoralized. Instead of shoring up the Empire's tottering 
house of cards, the Manifesto proved to be an instrument of its collapse: 
the diets authorized under the new federal organization turned out to be 


ready-made Parliaments for the fine new states, which, within less than a 
month were to rise from the ruins of the old Dual Monarchy. 

President Wilson's answer to the Emperor's peace plea was received on 
October 21. It was described by the new Foreign Minister, Count Burian, 
as "a bombshell which rent the frame of the monarchy apart." The Four- 
teen Points had demanded no more than the 'freest opportunity of au- 
tonomous development" for the minorities, a demand which had been met 
by the Emperor's Manifesto. But in his latest note the American President, 
who, in the meantime had recognized the Czechoslovak National Council 
as a de facto government, stated that he was no longer at liberty to accept 
a mere autonomy for the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav peoples as a basis for 
peace. He insisted that they, and not he, "shall be the judges of what action 
on the part of the Austro-Hungarian Government will satisfy their aspira- 
tions." This note, and the rapidly approaching armies of General Franchet 
d'Esperey precipitated the chain reaction of revolutions which now sepa- 
rated the monarchy into its component parts and swept away the suprana- 
tional imperial authority and its bureaucracy. 

The Czechs were the first to break loose. In the summer of 1918 the 
Allied governments had recognized Czechoslovakia as a co-belligerent. On 
October 18 Masaryk had solemnly proclaimed Czechoslovak independence 
in Washington, and flown the new blue-red-white flag from his house. He 
had wanted to forestall the effects of Karl's Manifesto and to influence the 
American President favorably. The proclamation was, according to his own 
words, "cast in a form calculated to remind the Americans of their own 
Declaration of Independence." 

The reminder had proved effective. President Wilson's note in effect 
warned the Emperor Karl that acceptance of Czech independence was the 
price of peace-part of the price. In the feeble hope that the Czechs them- 
selves might be induced to retain some link, however nominal, with the 
Habsburg throne, Karl communicated the terms of the American note to the 
leaders of the legal Czech nationalist parties in the Empire and authorized 
them to leave for Geneva to confer with Benes, now the Foreign Minister 
of the Czechoslovak Provisional Government abroad. 

Any chance of a compromise that would keep Czechoslovakia within 
the Empire was swept away by the direct impact of Wilson's note on the 
Czech masses when its content was officially released for publication in 
Prague on October 28. The crowds who had been waiting feverishly for the 
latest news in front of the offices of the newspaper Narodni Politika on 
Vencenclas Square, burst into wild cheers as the full implications of the 
note became apparent, and soon the streets were full of citizens happily 
pulling down Habsburg emblems from tobacco shops and public buildings. 
Carried away by these demonstrations of popular enthusiasm, the Prague 
National Committee decided to take over the administration. Those were 


hungry times and the first building they occupied was understandably the 
Corn Exchange, housing the country's rationing authorities. There was no 
resistance from the Austrian officials. On orders from Vienna, the military 
governor withdrew the Magyar troops who had been patrolling the streets, 
and the Austrian bureaucrats resignedly packed their bags. By evening, 
when the citizens of Prague saw the men of their beloved, national gymnas- 
tic clubs, the Sokols, keep order in the streets, they knew that independence 
had really come. Two days later the Slovak National Council pronounced 
itself in favor of unity with the Czech provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, and 
Silesia. (The Slovaks under Hungarian rule only joined the Republic after 
their former masters were driven out in 1920. So did the province of Sub- 
Carpathian Ruthenia for which a semi-autonomous status was provided in 
the constitution.) On November 14 a National Assembly, in its first ses- 
sion, declared the Habsburg Dynasty deprived of all its rights to the 
Bohemian lands, proclaimed a Republic and elected Thomas G. Masaryk 
its first President. 

The South Slav peoples of the Empire were the next to secede. They had 
fought for their independence under particularly difficult conditions. Theirs 
was the first jab at the Habsburg Goliath and it had brought their cham- 
pion, Serbia, four years of death and destruction. Although within four 
months of the Austrian attack in August 1914 the Serbs had thrown Gen- 
eral Potiorek and his armies back over the border, they succumbed in 1915 
to a typhus epidemic which claimed the lives of 300,000 and to a con- 
certed attack of the Germans, Austrians, and Bulgars. In the winter of 
1915-1916 what was left of the Serbian Army, together with the whole gov- 
ernment, the Regent, Prince Alexander, and his invalid father King Peter 
(who had to be evacuated in an ox cart) withdrew across the mountains 
of Albania and Para Montenegro to the Adriatic coast. The survivors of 
one of the most harrowing retreats in history were picked up by allied war- 
ships and transported to the island of Corfu, It was there that emigre lead- 
ers of the Empire's South Slavs met the exiled royal Serbian government, 
and on July 20, 1917, signed a common declaration affirming the unity 
of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and their intention to form a constitutional, 
democratic and parliamentary monarchy under the Karageorgevic dy- 

On October 6 a National Council of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was 
set up in Zagreb, the chief city of the Dual Monarchy's South Slavs. Into 
its hands the governor of Croatia, on instructions from Karl, surrendered 
the executive power on October 29. The National Council declared for 
union with Serbia and severed all connections with the "ex-Hungarian and 
Austrian territories." On December 4 the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and 
Slovenes, thereafter known as Yugoslavia, was proclaimed under the re- 
gency of Prince Alexander, later King Alexander I. The union of the South 


Slavs under Serbian leadership, for which the conspirators of Sarajevo had 
plotted and died, was thus achieved. Princip, Cabrinovic, and Grabez, 
whose age had saved them from execution at the time, had all succumbed 
to tuberculosis and died in prison during the war. Their bodies were brought 
back to Sarajevo in 1920 and buried in the local cemetery alongside the 
bodies of their accomplices who had paid with their lives after the trial. 
The two schoolboys sentenced to prison terms were released after the col- 
lapse of the Dual Monarchy. 1 

Even the Dual Monarchy's Polish minority defected. It will be recalled 
that in the eighteenth century, Hohenzollern, Habsburg, and Romanov 
greed had partitioned Poland and wiped its name off the map. The Austrian 
share was the smallest and the Poles enjoyed a favored position in the Dual 
Monarchy; the numerical strength of Polish deputies in the Vienna parlia- 
ment was such that no government could be formed without them. Most 
Poles regarded the Germans and the Russians as their real oppressors; 
there was little animosity toward Austria. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk 
and the Russian Revolution, the Polish deputies in the Reichsrat shifted 
to the opposition. On October 15 they informed the House that they now no 
longer considered themselves subjects of the Dual Monarchy, but citizens 
of the reborn Poland. The pianist, Ignace Paderewski, heading the 6migr6 
Polish National Committee in Paris, proved to be as able a propagandist 
for Poland in the United States as Masaryk had been for Czechoslovakia, 
and it was largely due to him that Wilson's Thirteenth Point demanded the 
creation after the war of an independent Poland with free access to the sea. 
At the end of October Austrian troops began withdrawing from Galicia. 
On November 14, 1918, Pilsudski who had been released from German 
imprisonment by the Social Democrat Revolution, took power in Warsaw. 
The various and often rival Polish independence movements eventually 
merged, and in January 1919, Paderewski as premier formed a coalition 
government while Pilsudski became President. 

Thus even before the revolution in Vienna which was to cost Karl the 
throne, the Habsburg dynasty had been abandoned by all the minorities 
over which it had ruled. (In addition to those who joined Czechoslovakia, 
Poland, and Yugoslavia, the province of Transylvania joined Rumania, 
and the Italian-populated territories were at last redeemed by the mother 
country.) There remained the core of the Empire: the two master-nations, 
Austria and Hungary. 

To Karl, and all those who put the survival of the supranational Habs- 
burg Dynasty above that of the Empire, there remained a nominal hope. 
Austria-Hungary, even stripped down to its basic components, was a viable 

1 One, Cubrilovic, was eventually to become minister of forestry in the Tito govern- 
ment, and the other, Popovic, curator of the Ethnographic Department of the Sarajevo 


and fair-sized power. In theory there was no overriding reason why it 
should not continue to accept and sustain the monarchy. In practice, too 
many factors were adverse: the winds of Wilsonism that were sweeping 
Europe, the accumulation of Karl's own errors, the social unrest born of 
hunger, the demoralization of impending defeat, the loss of prestige and 
even of an essential raison d'etre as the outlying provinces of the Empire, 
began to fall away. And above all, perhaps the sheer momentum of fission. 
The final debacle of the monarchy was the culmination of a revolutionary 
chain reaction in the Magyar-German central nucleus of the Empire, trig- 
gered in part by the splitting off of great fragments from the Slavic periph- 
ery. Whereas the national revolutions in the subject nations were largely 
peaceful transfers of power from a collapsing authority, merely formalizing 
local secessions that had already taken place in fact, the disintegration of 
the Empire's core inevitably released explosive forces. It was simultaneously 
social, political, and national: a royal, royal-imperial, royal-and-imperial 
dissolution. It began almost at the same moment in the two Habsburg cap- 
itals and at the front. 

On October 24 the Allies launched a great offensive on the Italian front 
along the Piave. For two days the Austro-Hungarian Army, sustained by 
tradition and training, fought back, although its soldiers were in rags, 
famished and plagued by malaria and Spanish influenza. "At the front, the 
Empire seems to live on in the all-nation-embracing unity of the army," 
wrote the Socialist, Otto Bauer, at the time. Yet it is precisely in the army 
and in the barracks that the Austrian revolution originated. And the ones 
to mutiny first were not the regiments of industrial workers, or those in- 
corporating prisoners released by the Russians, but the stanchest, smartest, 
most dashing of the imperial troops: the Hungarians. 

Two days after the start of the Allied offensive, the commander of the 
Hungarian divisions reported that as a regiment had paraded before him 
with the usual precision, one man stepped from the ranks, saluted smartly, 
and informed him that the unit would refuse to take up its positions. When 
orders were given for the man's arrest, the regiment called out as if with 
one voice, <e We won't allow it," still standing at attention. Questioned sepa- 
rately the men swore that they would fight on to their last breath but on 
their own borders. Since the Hungarian parliament had called for the return 
of its troops several days before, there was no alternative but to send them 
home, along with the other Hungarian divisions to whom the movement 
had spread. It is natural that the men called up to replace the Magyars, 
whose singing, cheering, homeward-bound regiments they often crossed as 
they moved up to the front, should not resist the epidemic for long. Under 
the impact of defeat and retreat the morale of the hard core of